Hollywood star Debbie Reynolds also played the starring role raising her two children, Carrie and Todd Fisher. Today, Todd is the sole survivor, with many a story to tell our Tracy Smith:
The late Debbie Reynolds once said that the two hardest things she ever did in her life were childbirth and "Singin' in the Rain."
Take at look at the musical number "Good Morning":
At the time, she was only 19 years old, with no prior dancing experience! But she more than kept up with Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly. It seems failure wasn't an option for Reynolds, in the movies, or as a mother to her two children, Carrie and Todd.
Todd, now 60, lives in Las Vegas, not far from where his mom used to perform.
In a new book, "My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie" (HarperCollins), he says that Debbie tried to give him and sister Carrie a happy childhood, even when their idyllic world fell apart.
Smith asked, "What kind of mom was Debbie?"
"My mother was the ultimate mother," he replied. "We always felt loved and looked after. It was like gravity; you just knew it was there. You know, when you get out of bed in the morning, you step out of bed, you don't think you're gonna fly up into outer space. That's what it was about knowing that she loved you. You just knew it. It was real.
"I can tell you that in my lifetime I've now met many thousands of people, I've never met a finer person in my entire life."
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In fact, Reynolds seemed to spend every minute she could with her kids. Even as she filmed some of the biggest movies of the day, Fisher says she made time for him and Carrie, no matter what.
Here she is with Carrie and Todd on the set of 1962's "How the West Was Won":
"And here you are, you're a child of divorce, child of Hollywood, and still, you felt that ...?" asked Smith.
"That, in the middle of chaos, in the middle of this huge career, spinning all the plates, you know, she still was able to convey that to us," Fisher said. "And part of that, though, has to do with taking us places."
She was their rock through everything, like that time in 1958 when their dad, singer Eddie Fisher, left mom for her best friend, Elizabeth Taylor.
Liz had just lost her husband, Mike Todd, in a plane crash, and as Carrie liked to say, Eddie flew right to Liz's side, and worked his way around to her front.
Todd said, "Back then, I mean, there were millions of people around the world that literally wanted to lynch my father. And given half a chance, they probably would have. His entire career went down the john. I mean, he did it himself."
Debbie had two more failed marriages, to Harry Karl and to Richard Hamlett, and both husbands left her in financial ruin. "Sure, she had some faults here and there, picking men," said Todd. "She used to say, in fact, 'My picker is broken, when it comes to picking men.' And you know, that's also endearing, when somebody knows their own faults."
- Debbie Reynolds: Ever and always a trouper ("Sunday Morning," 03/31/13)
She also had a weakness for Hollywood history. Over the years Reynolds had amassed a giant trove of movie costumes and memorabilia, but in 2011,. Todd said it broke her heart.
"I was sitting on the porch at her house the night before the first auction," he recalled. "She was panicked that it wasn't going to bring any money and no one was gonna care. I said, 'Listen, I'll tell you one thing is for sure, and I know none of this is easy on you, but at least, if you want to, you can dry your eyes with $100 bills when this is all over.'"
He says the auction took in close to $30 million.
He's managed to keep a few of his Mom's things, like a spare pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz." "Whether these were 'screen used' or not, I can't tell you for sure; there is an argument as to whether they're actually [on-screen]," he said.
Still, they have Judy Garland's name on them.
And there's the blaster used by Princess Leia in the first "Star Wars" film. And of course, that dress from "Singin' in the Rain."
Fisher still has enough of that "stuff dreams are made of" to fill a warehouse – some of it with emotional strings attached. One item is the outfit Reynodls wore when she put her handprints in cement outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre. "When I was there as a little boy – I'm gonna choke myself up – Carrie and I were there when she put her handprints in the courtyard, you know?"
Getting emotional he said, "Just give me a second, I'll suck it up."
As much as they all loved each other, there were rough patches, especially between Debbie and Carrie.
Smith said, "Carrie's relationship with your Mom was tricky?"
"Very. Carrie struggled with the shadow effect. Ha! What was it like living in the shadow of Debbie Reynolds? Well, for Carrie, it was a competition, in her mind. 'How could I ever be as pretty or as talented as her?' That was an impossible race to win."
In fact, Fisher says, Reynolds was a fan of Carrie's work, including the role that made her a household name. He said Reynolds liked Carrie as Leia, except for the hair style.
"I don't know anybody that was as much a princess as Carrie!" said Fisher. "I mean, you know, it was, like, her whole life was being groomed for that part. So, when she gets up there and tells Darth Vader off and all that, I was like, I'd seen that show my whole life!"
Carrie Fisher was famously open about her struggles with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. But when her heart gave out on a flight from London in December 2016, her brother Todd was stunned: "She was on life support. That, I had never seen before. But she looked so good. She looked pretty. She looked peaceful. I mean, it was surreal."
"What were you thinking?"
"I thought, at any minute she could just wake up," Fisher said. "In fact, I leaned over in her ear. And I said, 'Hey. Wake up now. That's enough of this. Let's get on with this. You can't go anywhere. You can't leave me here alone. We have plans!'"
It was Todd who had to tell his Mom the news.
"She was in bed, sitting there. And I walked in. And she looked at me and knew. I didn't even get a word out of my mouth. She knew."
And then, according to Todd, his mom decided to leave.
Smith asked, "What do you think she wanted to do?"
"She wanted to be with Carrie. She told me so. She said to me, 'You know, I really love Carrie.' And then it wasn't but moments later that she said, 'I need to be with her.'
"But she literally, within moments from there, closed her eyes and just went to sleep. And it looked just like somebody going to sleep. In fact, she snored a little bit, which was very out of character. Debbie Reynolds doesn't snore. You can imagine!"
"So you knew something …"
"Something was up. And if you look at what happened medically, you know, she had had a hemorrhage in her brain. But I think she'd left her body, like, on those words, just like walking offstage.
'I need to be with Carrie. And I'll see you later. You okay with that?' 'Yeah, of course.' 'Goodbye.' No, no goodbye! It was just like, check out, eyes closed. Sleep."
"That was the exit?" asked Smith.
"Sleep and eyes closed peacefully. Head back in the pillow, and out you go. It's, like, incredible. And it's beautiful."
The family actually put the urn with Carrie's ashes inside her mother's casket. Debbie Reynolds, the mom who held her children close her entire life, is now with her daughter forever.
Smith asked, "You know there still will be people out there who will say, 'Debbie died of a broken heart.' And you say to that...?"
"Well, you don't know," Todd replied. "The truth is that nobody knew them the way I knew them, that's a fact. And you know, I was there in the quiet times and in the loud times, and, you know, I've seen it. I saw it all. And, you know, from my perspective, there were no more beautiful people."
For more info:
- "My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie" by Todd Fisher (HarperCollins), available via Amazon
- Follow @tafish on Twitter and Facebook
Story produced by John D'Amelio.