Where to begin when talking about the woman who for decades was considered America's sweetheart? On December 28, Debbie Reynolds died at age 84, just one day after her daughter #CarrieFisher, who was an icon in her own right. But Reynolds left a legacy that's stood the test of time and one that will undoubtedly continue to delight audiences.
A Hollywood darling as far back as 1950 — who made her leading lady debut in 1952's Singin' In The Rain — Reynolds became a beloved figure for a new generation when she took on the role of Grandma Aggie in the Halloweentown series of TV movies, starting in 1998. She also played the popular recurring character of Bobbi Adler, Debra Messing's on-screen mom in popular sitcom Will & Grace. Following the news of Reynolds' passing, Messing took to Instagram to express her grief.
There is no question that #DebbieReynolds was a much-loved actress with wide appeal, and it's because of the following performances that she will forever remain one of the great screen legends.
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1. Kathy Selden — Singin' In The Rain (1952)
While Reynolds had been in a few movies prior to Singin' in the Rain, none were quite so highly regarded as this musical-comedy smash hit. The longstanding popularity of this film is no doubt a testament to the chemistry exhibited between Reynolds, Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor.
Reynolds came in as the rookie dancer — at least, a rookie compared to Kelly and O'Connor. She was only 20-years-old when Singin' in the Rain was released, and if #Hollywood hadn't noticed her before, it certainly did now. Playing a stage actress brought in to do the voice work for an actress who could neither orate effectively or sing, and who ultimately falls for the movie's leading man, Reynolds as Kathy Selden is terrific.
2. Tammy — Tammy And The Bachelor (1957)
This was the first and only Tammy movie Reynolds starred in, but it was memorable for many reasons, not least of which was the actress's engaging performance as the female lead. As a young girl from the swamps of Mississippi who is sent to live with a sophisticated bachelor (Leslie Nielsen) when her grandfather is jailed for moonshining, Reynolds is charming and full of naiveté, ultimately winning the heart of said sophisticated bachelor. Reynolds also found herself with a smash hit song with "Tammy," which won her a gold record.
3. Molly Brown — The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
This is probably the one role that defined how Reynolds lived her life. A strong-willed optimist, nothing took her down — not financial ruin, not three failed marriages, not betrayal from friends. The Unsinkable Molly Brown is a fictionalized telling of the life of Margaret Brown, one of the survivors of the #Titanic disaster. It's a rollicking affair that shows Reynolds didn't always have to be typecast as the wide-eyed innocent.
As tomboy Molly Brown, Reynolds is at times raw, at times alluring and always fun to watch. While the story itself was deemed superficial by some critics, Reynolds is thoroughly spirited and entertaining throughout the film, while still injecting enough sensitivity into the role at those touching moments to make Molly seem more truly human and not so superficial.
4. Sister Ann — The Singing Nun (1966)
As the naive young nun who felt that her guitar she named Adele and music were her only friends, Reynolds as the eponymous Singing Nun was her usual charming self. Sister Ann struggled with her burgeoning celebrity and how to enjoy it, as well as with the attraction she felt for a man. To be sure the film does not fit the Hollywood stereotype for happy endings, but it is memorable as one of Reynolds' more serious roles — although it is somewhat comical as well.
5. Charlotte — Charlotte's Web (1973)
Reynolds' first voice role, Charlotte is an insightful and affable spider who uses her web to save Wilbur, a pig destined for the slaughterhouse. Reynolds' animated arachnid is as calm and docile as the Charlotte of E.B. White's classic novel of the same name, and is a highlight of this film. As a result, Reynolds has become known to legions of kids who have come to see #CharlottesWeb in their elementary school classes as a reading-list classic.
6. Aggie Cromwell — Halloweentown (1998–2006)
Reynolds continued to forge an appeal to children with the #Halloweentown series of TV movies. As grandmother to Marnie Piper — who quickly realizes she's a witch — Aggie Cromwell has become a beloved figure in the #Disney canon and Halloweentown movies in the future will no doubt pay tribute to how much Aggie meant to them. She was kooky, quick-witted and, most importantly, a significantly loving figure in the Cromwell children's lives.
7. Bobbi Adler — Will & Grace (1999–2006)
As Grace Adler's mother Bobbi in #WillandGrace, Reynolds fell into a role that was seemingly made for her: a bubbly actress-singer who seemed to have a song for every occasion. In addition, Bobbi frequently meddled in her daughter's love-life, finding herself at odds with her on-screen offspring. Off screen, the two actresses' relationship was loving and filled with mutual admiration, with Debra Messing expressing her grief at the loss of her on-screen mom, saying she was heartsick over the loss.
So Much More To Give
Reynolds was hardworking in Hollywood well into her 80s. She was the star of stage and screen for more than 60 years, but it was her role as mother she treasured the most. Indeed, her Twitter bio reads:
I've made a lot of movies the past 60 years. My two children are the lights of my life. I was married a few times-you may have heard about that.
#RIPDebbieReynolds. You will be loved for decades to come.