Cindy Williams, who played Shirley on the groundbreaking ’70s sitcom Laverne & Shirley, has died at the age of 75.
According to the Associated Press, Williams died in Los Angeles on Jan. 25 after a brief illness. Her children, Zak and Emily Hudson, shared the news in a statement released through family spokeswoman Liza Cranis.
“The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed,” the statement said. “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.”
Laverne & Shirley debuted on Jan. 27, 1976, although the show’s titular characters were introduced the year before as guests on Happy Days. Williams was at first hesitant to sign on for the spinoff, but producer Garry Marshall (brother of Penny Marshall, who played Laverne) convinced her to do a test scene. “We shot it after Happy Days that night with Cindy and it was unbelievable,’ he recalled. “It was like one of those things that you rarely see onstage or anywhere. The place went crazy.”
Television audiences fell in love just as quickly. “Because of the fact that there was no blue-collar girls, it debuted number one in the ratings,” Garry Marshall later explained. “Because they were dying for somebody who didn’t look like Mary Tyler Moore or all the pretty girls on TV. They wanted somebody who looked like a regular person. And these two – my sister looks like a regular person, talks like a regular person. And Cindy Williams was brilliant.”
Williams remained on the show until she became pregnant in early 1982. She offered to continue working through the pregnancy, recalling on Today in 2015, “I thought I was going to come back and they’d hide me behind benches, couches, pillows, and that wasn’t it.”
Instead, Williams said, the show insisted that she work through her due date that fall, which was stipulated in her contract. “When it came time for me to sign my contract for that season … I said, ‘I can’t sign this,'” Williams told Today. “And it went back and forth and back and forth, and it just never got worked out.” She later sued the show for $20 million; the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Williams’ acting credits also included roles in George Lucas’ American Graffiti and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation.
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