Cindy Williams passed away on Wednesday in Los Angeles. She was an actress best remembered for her work on the venerable sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.” She was 75.
The death was announced on Monday by Liza Cranis, her assistant, who said it occurred after a brief illness. No particular reason was offered.
“Laverne & Shirley,” which ran on ABC from 1976 to 1983, starred Ms. Williams and Penny Marshall as two young single women working at a Milwaukee brewery in the 1950s. Ms. Williams played Shirley Feeney, an upbeat and demure complement to Ms. Marshall’s brash Laverne DeFazio. The show was a spinoff of the hugely popular sitcom “Happy Days.”
“Laverne & Shirley” was one of the top-rated shows in the nation for many years. Ms. Williams had appearances in more than 150 episodes. However, she departed the eighth and final season early due to a significant on-set conflict with Ms. Marshall. Ms. Marshall passed away in 2018 at the age of 75.
The children of Ms. Williams are Emily and Zak, Hudson. Her union with musician Bill Hudson was annulled.
She was cast in the 1973 coming-of-age narrative about a group of California youths in the George Lucas film “American Graffiti” before landing the part that would most significantly define her career. Ms. Williams was nominated for best supporting actress at the British Academy Film Awards for her performance as Laurie, the girlfriend of one of the other key characters in the movie (played by Ron Howard).
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The Conversation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starred her the following year. “The Conversation” and “American Graffiti,” both Mr. Coppola produced, were nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.
Ms. Williams appeared in an audition for Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of Princess Leia in the first “Star Wars” film, which Mr. Lucas also directed.
She gained several theatrical credits later in her career, including a brief appearance in the 2007 Broadway version of the musical “The Drowsy Chaperone.” She also appeared as a guest performer on popular television programs like “Law & Order: SVU” and “7th Heaven.” But Shirley was her most well-known name.
“She was sort of an optimist, kindhearted, repressed, temperamental, fun-loving person,” Ms. Williams once said of her character. “I always saw her as having this fear,” she added, noting that while Shirley’s desires were never explicitly played out onscreen, both Laverne and Shirley strove for the comforts of modern life.
“That was the sadness of those characters to me,” Ms. Williams added. “What if that never happens? Then where are we? And that was sort of my life, too.”
Beachard and Frances Williams welcomed Cynthia Jane Williams into the world on August 22, 1947, in the Los Angeles district of Van Nuys, in the San Fernando Valley. While attending Los Angeles City College, she studied theater arts after becoming interested in performing during her senior year of high school. In her memoir “Shirley, I Jest! “published in 2015, Ms. Williams stated, “I’m what you might call a “Valley Girl.” A Known Life.
Before entering the show industry, she worked at a Hollywood pancake house and the Whisky-a-Go nightclub. She then appeared in deodorant and sunglasses commercials, some of which, according to her in an interview with the Television Academy, was never shown. Her early television credits included appearances on the anthology comedy series “Love, American Style,” the sitcom “Nanny and the Professor,” and the high school comedy-drama “Room 222.”
“I always played the lead’s best friend,” she said.
At the time, Ms. Williams was well-known for having an air of an innocent American sweetheart, subverted that perception with a cunning performance in “The Conversation.” In that movie, the audience pulls together her statements from a covertly taped discussion, anticipating her to be a powerless victim rather than the person she truly is, who is in charge of her destiny. She might have gone on to play more tragic roles, but she chose situation comedies instead.
When the producer and director Garry Marshall, Ms. Marshall’s brother, asked if the two women would guest star on his show “Happy Days” as dates for Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Richie, Ms. Williams and Ms. Marshall were writing partners at Zoetrope, a production company founded by Mr. Coppola. They were working on a potential TV spoof for the bicentennial (Ron Howard). Shirley was intended for Richie, but Fonzie took Laverne for himself, reuniting Ms. Williams with her “American Graffiti” co-star.
Since there weren’t any other television programs featuring blue-collar women, Mr. Marshall suggested an ABC executive, Fred Silverman, a sitcom starring the two, based on that “Happy Days” episode, which aired in 1975.
They may only be young working-class ladies in the big city, but “Laverne & Shirleyopening “‘s titles featured a school rhyme and a pleasant mission statement that encapsulated the pair’s fun, optimistic outlook.
The antics of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz on “I Love Lucy” were similar to those of Laverne and Shirley, except Shirley was (typically) the more sedate and dreamy character. Ms. Williams showed a talent for capturing the clumsiness of youth in broad physical humor thanks to her easygoing demeanor.
In 1976, John J. O’Connor of The New York Times wrote this about “Laverne & Shirley”: “Both title characters are played to a wonderful noncondescending turn. Miss Williams and Miss Marshall cover all the bases; they give us a little bit of Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and that lot here and there, as well as a little bit of Barbara Stanwyck in “Stella Dallas” and Giùlietta Masina in “La Strada.”
While the women shared the screen, Ms. Williams occasionally believed that her co-star received preferential treatment because of her relationship with Mr. Marshall on a personal level. For her part, Ms. Marshall believed that Mr. Hudson, Ms. Williams’s then-husband and aspiring producer, was placing too many demands on the production to accommodate his wife’s pregnancy.
Sitcom legend “Shirley” bows out….CINDY WILLIAMS who played straight-faced Shirley Feeney opposite Penny Marshall’s wilder Laverne DeFazio on the ABC sitcom “Laverne & Shirley” has died – She died in LA at the age of 75 after a brief illness – RIP sitcom star!!
— charles benjamin (@chaleeboh3131) January 31, 2023
The audience witnessed Ms. Williams wed Walter Meeney at the start of the show’s last season (and become Shirley Feeney Meeney). The story soon claimed that Shirley had followed her new husband abroad, leaving only a note to say farewell, and her long run came to an unjustifiable end. The truth is that Ms. Williams had wanted to collaborate with the show to conceal and accommodate her pregnancy. Later, she filed a $20 million lawsuit; however, the issue was resolved outside of court for an undisclosed sum.
“‘Laverne & Shirley’ ended abruptly for me,” Ms. Williams wrote in her memoir. “When we shot the first episode, I was four months pregnant. But when it came time to sign the contract for that season I realized that the studio had scheduled me to work on my delivery due date.”
“In the wink of an eye, I found myself off the show,” she continued. “It was so abrupt that I didn’t even have time to gather my things.”
In 2013, Ms. Williams and Ms. Marshall reunited for an appearance on the Nickelodeon series “Sam & Cat,” a modern show that riffed on the themes of “Laverne & Shirley” and starred Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande.
Me, Myself and Shirley, a one-woman show in which Ms. Williams documented her life in Hollywood and her relationship with Ms. Marshall, finished a nationwide theatrical tour last year.