November 27, 2022 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Debbie Reynolds, early Hollywood AIDS activist

FILE- In this Feb. 15, 1984, file photo, actress Debbie Reynolds appears at Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies in Los Angeles. Reynolds, star of the 1952 classic "Singin' in the Rain" died Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, according to her son Todd Fisher. She was 84. (AP Photo/Wally Fong, File)
DEBBIE REYNOLDS  In this Feb. 15, 1984, file photo, actress Debbie Reynolds appears at Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies in Los Angeles. Reynolds, star of the 1952 classic “Singin’ in the Rain” died Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, according to her son Todd Fisher. She was 84. (AP Photo/Wally Fong, File)

BY KAREN OCAMB  |  The LGBT community—reeling from the deaths of icons George Michael and Carrie Fisher and AIDS Project Los Angeles co-founder Matt Redman—was stunned again Wednesday by the news that Fisher’s funny and vivacious mother, Debbie Reynolds, died the day after her daughter. Reynolds’ son Todd told the Associated Press that she died of a broken heart saying “I want to be with Carrie” moments before she died.

Reynolds’ long and tumultuous career includes the gossip scandal of 1958 when pop singer Eddie Fisher, the husband of the “girl next door,” left her for sexy actress Elizabeth Taylor. Reynolds and Taylor later reconciled their ‘50s friendship, even having dinner with her second husband and Taylor and Taylor’s next husband, Richard Burton.

These old broads with Debbie Reynolds, Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins, Elizabeth Taylor. PIC:BAB/LFI
THESE OLD BROADS with Debbie Reynolds, Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins, Elizabeth Taylor. PIC:BAB/LFI

In 2001, Reynolds and Taylor starred with Shirley MacLaine and Joan Collins in the made-for-TV movie, “These Old Broads,” written by Carrie Fisher. Another interesting note in the less-than-six-degrees-of-separation relationship between Reynolds and Taylor is that Reynolds was an AIDS activist before Taylor. In fact, along with comedienne Joan Rivers, singer/actress Rita Moreno, and actor Robert Guillaume, Reynolds was among the first of the Hollywood celebrities to publicly appear in AIDS fundraisers at a time when HIV/AIDS was still a mysterious killer and gay men with AIDS were labeled lepers.

shirley_debbietable_aIn 1983, Reynolds performed at an AIDS fundraiser with friend and Hollywood rival Shirley MacLaine. In fact, it was MacLaine who was slated to play Molly Brown in the 1964 MGM film version of the Broadway musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown. But Reynolds not only got the part but won an Oscar nomination, as well. Three decades later, Reynolds sought to play Doris Mann in the 1990 screen adaptation of Fisher’s 1987 semi-autobiographical novel about addiction and a mother-daughter relationship in Postcards from the Edge. In her memoir, Unsinkable, when Reynolds asked director Mike Nichols if she could read for the role, he told her, “You’re not right for the part.” To which Reynolds replied: “Excuse me? I’m not right to play myself, a part that I’d been creating—admittedly, unwittingly–for my daughter for decades?”

debbie-sf-1983
Stars of stage and screen, actress Debbie Reynolds is shown performing in rehearsal in San Francisco on June 23, 1983 for benefit show she partook in later in the evening for the AIDS/Kaposi Sarcoma Foundation at San Francisco’s Louise M. Davies Hall. Dancers are (L-R): Randy Val Clupp; Thomas Anthony & Steve Lane. (UPI Photo/Bill Kwok/Files)

In his book “And The Band Played On” about the beginning of the AIDS crisis, Randy Shilts wrote about that June 23, 1983 AIDS fundraiser in San Francisco: “The fund-raiser for the National KS/AIDS foundation had all the raciness of a true San Francisco event. When host Debbie Reynolds introduced the surprise guest, actress Shirley MacLaine, with the comment that MacLaine had great legs, MacLaine responded by pulling down the top of her long strapless gown, demonstrating that she had other equipment to match. The crowd cheered enthusiastically: “We love you, Shirley!” Not to be outdone, Reynolds lifted the rear of her slitted gown to reveal her brief black underwear.

“Debbie’s ‘Tammy’ image is blown forever,” sighed one realtor in the audience.”

debbie-r-hollywood-bowl-1983On August 28,1983, Reynolds appeared with comic Rip Taylor at the first AIDS benefit in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl.

Though Elizabeth Taylor eclipsed Reynolds in the AIDS activist/fundraising world after the AIDS death of Taylor’s dear friend Rock Hudson, Reynolds was known to always be available, without perks, to lend her name and talent to fighting the AIDS epidemic. And her fondness for the gays never disappeared either, landing the role as Kevin Kline’s mother in the satirical 1997 film “In & Out,” and playing her Emmy-nominated role as Deborah Messing’s eccentric mother in NBC’s “Will & Grace.” Her last role was Liberace’s mother in the 2013 HBO movie “Behind the Candelabra.”

In 2014, Reynolds received the Screen Actors Guild life achievement award, presented by her beloved daughter and neighbor, Carrie Fisher.

debbie-carrie-sag

“She has been more of a mother to me – not much. But definitely more. She’s been an unsolicited stylist, interior decorator, and marriage counselor,” said Fisher to much laughter. “This is an extraordinarily kind, generous, gifted funny woman who would give you the shirt off her back—if Vivian Leigh hadn’t once worn it in ‘Gone with the Wind.’”

It’s a sentiment shared by members of the LGBT community who remember Reynolds’ kindness and generosity to people living with and dying from HIV/AIDS at a time when it took courage to put her career at risk and bring laughter and joy to others.

This video of her SAG Award includes clips from “In & Out,” “Behind the Candelabra,” and “Will & Grace” – “Look, look – no panty line because…no panties,” she tells TV daughter Debra Messing. Carrie Fisher’s introduction starts at 1:50 into the video:

Related Posts

New Injectable HIV Prevention Drug Approved By FDA

January 18, 2022

January 18, 2022

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first long-acting injectable medication for use as pre-exposure prevention, or PrEP, against...

AIDS/LifeCycle 2022 Needs More Volunteers

January 18, 2022

January 18, 2022

AIDS LifeCycle is back with more than $4 million raised so far for the 2022 ride benefitting the HIV/AIDS-related services...

Hollywood Star and Gay Icon Betty White Dies Aged 99

January 6, 2022

January 6, 2022

Hollywood Star and gay icon Betty White died peacefully in her Brentwood home in West LA  on December 31st.  She...

‘Commitment To Life’ Documentary Exploring HIV Fight In Los Angeles

December 7, 2021

December 7, 2021

Production has begun on “Commitment to Life” a new documentary that explores the fight against HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles.  Directed...

Congregation Kol Ami To Host World AIDS Day 2021 Event

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

Progressive, Reform Congregation Kol Ami will mark World AIDS Day with a special interfaith observance, combining awareness, remembrance, and speaking...

34th Annual AIDS Walk Long Beach

November 16, 2021

November 16, 2021

The 34th Annual AIDS Walk Long Beach, a benefit for the LGBTQ Center Long Beach and other local providers returned...

New Documentary Pays Tribute to Transgender ‘AIDS diva’ Connie Norman

October 26, 2021

October 26, 2021

A new documentary titled “AIDS Diva: The Legend of Connie Norman,” will pay tribute to the transgender leader in AIDS...

AIDS/LifeCycle Kick Off Ride

October 11, 2021

October 11, 2021

AIDS/LifeCycle is kicking off it’s 2022 training season to end AIDS on October 16th.  Riders can sign up for the...

AltaMed Health Services to Host “Inclusion Beyond Pride: A Queer Art Show”

August 5, 2021

August 5, 2021

AltaMed Health Services, will host “Inclusion Beyond Pride: A Queer Art Show” on Friday, Aug. 6, 6-10 p.m. in Los...

PReP, The HiV Prevention Pill, Free

July 26, 2021

July 26, 2021

Insurers have been advised that they shouldn’t be charging for Truvada and Descovy as HIV prevention and that associated clinic...

Patrick O’Connell, AIDS Activist, Dead At 67

May 6, 2021

May 6, 2021

Patrick O’Connell, a venerable AIDS activist and creator of the iconic red ribbon creating awareness about the disease, has died...

National AIDS Memorial Mary Bowman Arts in Activism Award Given to Westside Local

April 11, 2021

April 11, 2021

Poet, Activist, Artist, and Westside local Ima Diawara uses her art and activism to raise greater awareness about bigotry, stigma...

Ivy Bottini – WeHo Icon & LGBTQ Advocate Dies

March 14, 2021

March 14, 2021

Ivy Bottini an artist, mother and a legendary activist, devoting over 50 years to the feminist & LGBTQ  struggle for...

Hal Holbrook, Actor Who Played Mark Twain, Dies At 95

February 3, 2021

February 3, 2021

Hal Holbrook, the actor best known for his accurate portrayal of Samuel Clemens — better known as Mark Twain —...

Trailblazing Actress Cicely Tyson Dies At 96

January 28, 2021

January 28, 2021

Iconic actress, former model and civil rights activist Cicely Tyson has died at the age of 96.  Tyson’s manager Larry...