The Great Debbie Reynolds: The Charm and Class of Another Era

Author: Bill Dudley

I had the sense  2016 was going to be a bad year, when right off the bat, we got the sad news of Natalie Cole’s passing on January 1st. She had been to The WAVE many times, and I was fortunate to meet her.

We also lost so many other great singers, entertainers and sports legends this year, I would actually rather not think about it.

While the death of Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) touched so many lives and generations, Carrie’s roots of talent, humor, and candidness go way back. In the past 17 years I have lived in Hollywood, no encounters with any celebrity have moved me more than the times I had seen and met Debbie Reynolds.

She became a part of my life long ago when as a little boy, my mom took me to see Tammy & The Bachelor. It registered with me because it had a hit song I could hear on the radio, “Tammy.”  Debbie had already become a star at that point ( before my time), with her dazzling appearance in Singing In The Rain, which I never saw until decades later. Shortly after “Tammy” came out, Debbie’s husband left her for Debbie’s best friend actress Elizabeth Taylor. It was a huge scandal at the time, even bigger when Elizabeth dumped Eddie a few years later for Richard Burton

In the past 10 years, I have encountered Debbie at least 3 or 4 times. Once she was sitting behind me in a North Hollywood theater, tapped me on the shoulder and just started talking to me. The next time I saw her, she was doing her hysterical one-woman show at that same theater. She was self-effacing, hysterically funny, and still had her great golden voice. She made her life purposeful, by being a great humanitarian, a doting mother, and even forgiving Elizabeth Taylor for stealing her husband so long ago.

Debbie also had a striking resemblance to my Aunt Bern, which I never noticed until I met her, but Debbie had an even more glaring similarity to my mother Lillian, but not visually.  No, my mom wasn’t a famous singer, dancer or actress, but the connection was, her husband also left her for another woman while she had small children.

Debbie somehow focused both on her children, and her career, as did my mom, not an easy thing to do, especially in that era. While Star Wars fans were mourning the death of Carrie Fisher, Debbie was just not able to accept the fact that she had outlived her daughter.

Debbie and Carrie had a cantankerous relationship for years, but obviously each one very much loved the other, as they even lived next door to each other. I just saw a recent documentary to air next year on HBO, “Bright Lights” that follows the two of them for almost 1 full year, concluding with Debbie’s Lifetime Achievement Award from SAG in late 2015. It is both touching and fascinating.

They had a very complex relationship, just as I did with my own mother. If you want to know where Carrie got her great sense of humor from, watch this film. It came from her mother, Debbie Reynolds, one of the last great classy stars of old Hollywood.

Debbie is survived by her son Todd, ironically named  after one of Elizabeth Taylor’s earlier husbands (Mike Todd, killed in a plane crash), and Carrie’s only daughter, actress Billie Lourd.

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