Actress Cindy Williams who starred in Laverne & Shirley passed away at 75. The death of actress Cindy Williams on Wednesday in Los Angeles shocked fans of her work on the long-running sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.” She had reached the age of 75.
On Monday, her aide Liza Cranis confirmed her death, stating she had a brief illness before passing. There was no explanation as to why.
Ms. Williams and Ms. Marshall featured as two young, single women in the 1950s working at a Milwaukee brewery in the hit sitcom “Laverne & Shirley,” which aired from 1976 to 1983. Ms. Williams’s character, Shirley Feeney, was a bright and demure foil to Ms. Marshall’s bombastic Laverne DeFazio. The series was based on the formula of the successful sitcom “Happy Days.”
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The television sitcom “Laverne & Shirley” was top-rated for many years. With the considerable on-set conflict between her and Ms. Marshall, Ms. Williams quit the show after appearing in more than 150 episodes in the eighth and final season. Marshall, who was 75 herself, passed away in 2018.
Ms. Williams made her cinematic debut in George Lucas’s 1973 picture “American Graffiti” before being cast in the part that would define her career. She received a nod for best supporting actress at the British Academy Film Awards for her work as Laurie. The following year, she appeared in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” which, like “American Graffiti,” was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture.
Additionally, Ms. Williams tried out for the position of Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” films, which ultimately went to Carrie Fisher.
Later in her career, Ms. Williams appeared as a guest star on popular TV shows, including “Law & Order: SVU” and “7th Heaven.” She also appeared briefly as Mrs. Tottendale in the Broadway version of “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
But everyone knew her by her nickname, Shirley.
Ms. Williams described her as “an optimist, kindhearted, repressed, volatile, fun-loving person.” Laverne and Shirley yearned for the conveniences of contemporary life, but Shirley’s aspirations were never directly portrayed onscreen, so “I always regarded her as having this trepidation,” she said.
“That was the sadness of those folks to me,” Ms. Williams elaborated. Well, if it never happens, then what are we doing here? Indeed, that sums up my life as well.
Cynthia Jane Williams was born on August 22, 1947, in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys, which is part of the San Fernando Valley. She went on to study theatre arts at Los Angeles City College. Ms. Cranis provided her biographies. Ms. Williams wrote in her 2015 memoir “Shirley, I Jest! A Remarkable Life.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, she worked at a pancake house and the Whisky a Go nightclub in Hollywood. In an interview with the Television Academy, Ms. Williams said that she had appeared in advertisements for deodorant and sunglasses, some of which had never even been broadcast. The TV shows “Love, American Style,” “Nanny and the Professor,” and “Room 222” all featured her in early acting roles.
She claimed, “I played the lead’s best buddy in every movie I was in.”
Ms. Williams, who at the time was best known for playing the role of the innocent American darling in films like “The Conversation,” subverted viewers’ expectations with a masterfully deceptive portrayal. In the movie, the audience deduces her true nature from fragments of a secretly recorded dialogue, and they come to the wrong conclusion about her agency. She could have gone on to play dramatic roles, but instead, she decided to try her hand at situation comedies.
Working together on a potential TV satire for the bicentennial, Ms. Williams and Ms. Marshall were approached by Ms. Marshall’s brother Garry to appear on his sitcom “Happy Days” as low-maintenance dates for Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Richie (Richard Loomer) (Ron Howard). Fonzie snagged Laverne, while Richie was destined for Shirley, reuniting Michelle Williams with her “American Graffiti” co-star, Terrence Howard, who played Laverne’s lover.
Mr. Marshall approached Fred Silverman, a key executive at ABC, with the idea of making a sitcom starring the two, saying that there were no other series about blue-collar women and that the “Happy Days” episode featuring them in 1975 was so successful that it deserved its show.
They may be young working-class ladies in the big city, but they will make their dreams come true; the show’s opening credits contained a school rhyme and a lovely mission statement that anybody could identify to.
The antics of Laverne and Shirley were reminiscent of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz in “I Love Lucy.” Still, in this iconic comedy team, Shirley was (usually) the more relaxed and daydreamy of the two. Ms. Williams’ easygoing demeanor made it clear that she had a natural gift for conveying the clumsiness of adolescence through large-scale physical comedy.
The television critic for The New York Times, John J. O’Connor, had this to say about the 1976 premiere of “Laverne & Shirley”: “Both title characters are played to a beautiful non-condescending turn. Miss Williams and Miss Marshall cover all the bases, from Barbara Stanwyck in “Stella Dallas” through Giulietta Masina in “La Strada,” with dashes of Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and company thrown in for good measure.
Though the two women appeared in the same scenes, Ms. Williams thought her co-star received preferential treatment because of her relationship with Mr. Marshall. Ms. Marshall thought Ms. Williams’ future producer husband, Mr. Hudson, was overly demanding.
At the start of the series finale, Ms. Williams wed Walter Meeney, changing her name to Shirley Feeney Meeney. Unfortunately, her long streak was cut short not long after that when it was revealed that Shirley had left for good with her new husband, leaving behind only a message. The actress anticipated concealing her pregnancy by cooperating with the show. She filed a lawsuit seeking $20 million, and the case was eventually resolved out of court for an unknown sum.
According to Williams’ autobiography, “Laverne & Shirley” was canceled “abruptly” for her. I was four months along when we filmed the pilot. The studio had scheduled me to work on my delivery due date, but I found this out when it was time to sign the contract for that season.
As she said in her letter, “in the blink of an eye, I found myself off the show.” “I didn’t have time to grab my belongings because everything happened so suddenly.”
Ms. Williams and Ms. Marshall reconnected in 2013 when they both made guest appearances on the Nickelodeon sitcom “Sam & Cat,” a recent show that parodied “Laverne & Shirley” and starred Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande.
Two years later, Ms. Williams released her autobiography, and just last year, she finished a national theatre tour of her one-woman show, “Me, Myself, and Shirley.” She detailed her time in Hollywood and her romance with Ms. Marshall in the performance.
The two “were just in rhythm,” she recalled in an interview with NBC from the previous year. Without anyone else, I wouldn’t have been able to finish it.