Cindy Williams, left, and Penny Marshall, right, stars of Laverne & Shirley. Photo: ©ABC/Courtesy Everett Collectio
Cindy Williams, the actress who rose to fame in the 1970s as one of two stars of the blockbuster sitcom Laverne & Shirley, died today at the age of 75.
TMZ obtained the following statement from the family of Cindy Williams, announcing her death: “The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed. 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.”
The California-born actress got her start in the business back in the late 1960s as a commercial actress, but caught a huge break when she was cast alongside Ron Howard in George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973), a role which earned her a BAFTA nomination as Best Supporting Actress. She followed up that with an appearance in another film from a titan of New Hollywood, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), but narrowly missed out on worldwide fame when she lost the role of Princess Leia to Carrie Fisher in Lucas’ Graffiti follow-up, the seminal 1977 movie Star Wars.It might have been for the best, though, because this missed opportunity allowed Williams to befriend Penny Marshall, a comedy writer and performer whose brother, Garry Marshall, was one of the most influential creators in the history of television. Marshall was running the show on Happy Days at the time, the #1 sitcom on television, and cast his sister and her BFF Williams in an episode of Happy Days where they went on a double date with Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler). This was a hugely popular episode, and paved the way for the pair’s Happy Days spin-off, 1976’s Laverne & Shirley.
In many ways, Laverne & Shirley was a gender-flipped take on The Odd Couple; Williams played Shirley Feeney, the prim and proper roommate of Penny Marshall’s Laverne DeFazio, the brash Brooklyn tomboy. Thanks to its rapid-fire jokes and instant comedic chemistry between the show’s two leads, the show quickly caught on with audiences, running for 8 full seasons on ABC, even becoming the #1 show on television during its run. Williams even earned a Golden Globe nomination in 1978 as Best Actress in a Television Series (Musical or Comedy); Carol Burnett ended up winning the Globe that year.
As was the case for many actors who are fortunate enough to land iconic television roles, Williams never found another role with the same cultural cachet as Shirley, but she continued to be a working actress up until the time of her death. She racked up 85 acting performances over her long and storied career, appearing in projects as varied as Perry Mason, Steel Magnolias, and Sam & Cat.
We’re gonna pour ourselves a tall, cool glass of Shotz tonight in honor of Cindy Williams, an actress who was always making our dreams come true.
Post-Script: Penny Marshall died back in 2018, also at the age of 75.