Debbie Reynolds was many things in her lifetime – a film star, a dancer, a musician, an entrepreneur, a casino operator, a humanitarian – and she was widely applauded for all of them. But the most important work she did? The stuff that she went most unrecognised for. Sorting out all of your dumb shit problems.
In dying the day after her equally famous daughter, Debbie Reynolds cemented the direction of her obituary. A mother and child gone within 24 hours of each other. A Hollywood dynasty, snuffed out in the blink of eye. A heart-wrenching finale to the all-out deathfest that was 2016.
She was remembered in death both as Carrie Fisher’s mother and as one of the Hollywood greats, but what got a little overlooked was that Debbie Reynolds was also very much a people person. Someone who used her celebrity for good, reaching out to the great unwashed and helping them with their stupid mortal-person problems.
Every week, she wrote an agony aunt column in the American edition of the National Enquirer – and every week it was an eye-popping spectacle of stupid, inane shit. To her eternal credit though, Debbie handled it all with great aplomb. And why wouldn’t she?
Having grown up poor as a child of the Great Depression, living hand to mouth for the first few years of her life, she knew the value of hard work. After wangling a contract with Warner Brothers she was cast in Singin’ In The Rain at the age of 19, despite having no formal dance training. Working with one all of the all-time great choreographer-directors, she put in 18 hour days – shooting from 6am to midnight – getting endlessly shouted at by Gene Kelly. The result? One of the greatest films of all time.
So, naturally, it made her the perfect person to ask for advice when you accidentally cut your hand open with a Stanley knife at work and are now struggling to decide whether or not you should move house.
It wasn’t all glitz and glamour though, for Debbie was no stranger to heartache. Famously married to Eddie Fisher, the pair were well-known Hollywood sweethearts: the Brad and Jen of their day.
It all took a bit of a turn for the scandalous when Eddie embarked on an affair with the widow of his dead best friend, Elizabeth Taylor. Eddie and Debbie had been best man and matron of honour at Liz’s wedding, so this cut about as close to home as it was possible to get.
But it’s exactly this sort of first-hand insight into the most selfish and self-destructive of human behaviours which gave Debbie such an informed perspective when members of the public wrote in to ask her about doggy daycare etiquette.
The break-up of her marriage would go on to have catastrophic effects on both her and her children. When Eddie Fisher later married Liz Taylor, Debbie turned to drink, which caused her to have a very fractious relationship with her daughter. Not only did Debbie have to deal with her own alcoholism, she then had to watch as similar addictions would later take hold of Carrie too.
It must have been tremendously difficult to endure such tribulation, but Debbie no doubt took solace from the fact that, one day, all this turmoil and tragedy would give her the wisdom she needed to deal with the general populace when they asked her how you should deal with people when they steal chips from your plate.
She knew her fair share of financial troubles too. Having moved to Vegas to work the cabaret scene when her Hollywood film work was drying up, Debbie’s second husband (millionaire Harry Karl) managed to gamble away all of his money – then all of hers too.
Never one to give up, Debbie used this chance to make a clean break and start afresh, taking up a job in Broadway to great acclaim and continued success. She rebuilt her reputation and fortune, only to have to declare herself bankrupt at the end of her third marriage. Yet she never stopped working and managed to build herself back up a fourth time.
Celebrity stories of hardship like this can be extremely relatable with regular joes, which is presumably why readers of the Enquirer were so keen to get her expert opinion on how best to kiss your in-laws.
One thing is for sure: it will be a long time before we have anyone as wise, gracious and kind to answer our questions in the back of the National Enquirer again.