Movie and TV Star Cindy Williams has Died at the Age of 75
Williams, who became famous thanks to ‘Happy Days’ spin-off ‘Laverne & Shirley’, died last week in Los Angeles.
Cindy Williams, who unusually for the time period went from appearing in Oscar-nominated movies to becoming a true star on TV in ‘Laverne & Shirley’ has died following a brief illness. She was 75.
Cynthia Jane Williams was born in Van Nuys on Aug. 22, 1947, though she, her mother and sister lived in Dallas for nine years to escape her alcoholic father.
After they returned to the San Fernando Valley, Williams attended Birmingham High School alongside Sally Field (who left to star in ‘Gidget’). She was voted “funniest female” on graduation in 1965, and then majored in theater at Los Angeles City College.
While appearing in theatrical productions, Williams worked at IHOP and served drinks at the famed Whisky a Go Go nightclub to pay the bills. But she met Garry Marshall and Fred Roos, who were launching a management company and began to find work in commercials.
She made the leap to movies with sci-fi comedy ‘Gas!’ and Jack Nicholson’s ‘Drive, He Said’. A few other small roles follows before she landed the part of Laurie in ‘American Graffiti’, not expecting much from it, but impressed by the finished film. That collaboration with George Lucas led to her auditioning to play Princess Leia in ‘Star Wars’ though the role ultimately and famously went to Carrie Fisher.
Yet Williams still scored impressive work, following the Oscar nominated ‘Graffiti’ with the equally acclaimed ‘The Conversation’. She’d continue to appear in front of the camera from time to time in movies but worked more behind the scenes.
Her acting career, however, took off on the small screen after she appeared on an episode of ‘Happy Days’ with writing partner Penny Marshall. That led to spin-off ‘Laverne & Shirley, which followed struggling Laverne DeFazio (Marshall) and Shirley Wilhelmina Feeney (Williams), high school friends, sharing a basement apartment in Milwaukee and working as bottle cappers for the Schotz brewery.
The show was known for plenty of physical comedy and witty writing. And Williams pointed to its appeal in an interview. We made sure the joke was always on us, we never made fun of anyone else,” she said. “We also wanted to keep the wolf nipping at our heels, like how are we going to pay the rent, how are we going to pay the electric bill. So we kept it grounded in that. We also made sure it was extremely funny to us.”
Despite huge success and big ratings, the show didn’t end well for Williams, who refused to sign a contract saying she would appear on the day she would give birth. She was written out of the series before its final season after suing for the pay she would have received for the missing episodes.
“The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed,” said her Children Zak and Emily Hudson in a statement. “Knowing and loving her has been our joy and privilege. She was one of a kind, beautiful, generous and possessed a brilliant sense of humor and a glittering spirit that everyone loved.”