Actress Cindy Williams, best known as Shirley Feeney in the classic 1970s hit TV show “Laverne and Shirley,” has died at the age of 75. Her assistant, Liza Cranis, said Williams died “peacefully.”
Williams’ charm as the innocent Shirley beguiled millions from 1976 to 1983. The show, a spin-off from the massive TV hit “Happy Days,” starred Williams and Penny Marshall as two young Milwaukee blue-collar women.
“It evolved,” Williams said of her character. “There were certain things that evolved. Like the thing that I said where she could be — her temperament evolved. I had a lot of fun playing, being very calm one minute and then going for someone’s throat, one of the boy’s throats the next. I really liked that, but that was sort of a comedic conceit that was a lot of fun to play and a lot of fun to watch.”
“Just like that, I can be very calm one minute and very temperamental the next,” she laughed. “But I’m Italian; so is Penny. We’re both half-Italian.”
Williams was born in Van Nuys, California and went on to major in theater at Los Angeles City College. “I’m what you might call a ‘Valley Girl,’” Williams admitted in her memoir, “Shirley, I Jest! A Storied Life.”
She landed roles in “Room 222,” “Nanny and the Professor” and “Love, American Style,” before she got her breakout role in the 1973 film “American Graffiti” as Laurie. For that film, in which she starred alongside Ron Howard, she received a nomination for best supporting actress from the British Academy Film Awards. In 1974, she got a plum role in “The Conversation” as a woman seemingly a victim but actually part of a sinister plot.
Then came the role of her career. Williams and Marshall were writing partners when Marshall’s brother Garry, the producer of “Happy Days,” got them the roles of dates for Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Richie (Ron Howard). Williams was again cast opposite Howard. The episode became so popular that Garry Marshall successfully pitched the idea of a spin-off show starring the two women.
“We were very different people,” Williams recalled of Marshall, who died in 2018. “She was, you get the script; you read it; you know it; and you do it. You start performing it. I have dyslexia so it takes me a little longer and she could be a little impatient with that. Once we hit the stage together and actually started the show, you couldn’t slip a playing card in between us because we just were in rhythm. I couldn’t have done it with anyone else.”
Williams’ role on the show ended when she became pregnant.“’Laverne & Shirley’ ended abruptly for me. 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,” she wrote in her memoir. She later sued and the case was settled out of court.
Williams spoke strongly about her faith in God. “Well, I was just born with it. He was always present. So if it was imbued in my spirit; it gets really heady,” she told Psychology Today. “I don’t know how I can talk about this, but God was imbued in me from the time of my birth; and me in Him. And I just had this sense of always being all right, even though the situation might be dire.”
Williams is survived by her children, Emily and Zak Hudson, whose father Bill Hudson, was also married to Goldie Hawn; their daughter is Kate Hudson. Williams’ children described her after her death as “one of a kind.”
Tributes flowed in after the news of Williams’ death:
#CindyWilliams Her unpretentious intelligence, talent, wit & humanity impacted every character she created & person she worked with. We were paired as actors on 6 different projects. #AmericanGraffiti a couple of dramas & then #HappyDays & #laverneandshirley Lucky me. RIP, Cindy https://t.co/pXc9bQhNIk
— Ron Howard (@RealRonHoward) January 31, 2023
Backstage, Season 1: I’m offstage waiting for a cue. The script’s been a tough one, so we’re giving it 110% and the audience is having a great time. Cindy scoots by me to make her entrance and with a glorious grin, says: “Show’s cookin’!”. Amen. Thank you, Cindy.
— Michael McKean (@MJMcKean) January 31, 2023
Sad to hear the passing of Cindy Williams.
If there is an afterlife, may you and Penny be pouring a Shotz beer and Milk and Pepsi with Garry, David, Eddie and Phil. pic.twitter.com/MYERLOgZsG
— Danny Deraney (@DannyDeraney) January 31, 2023