Doris Day, the actress and singer who became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the Fifties and Sixties, died Monday after contracting pneumonia, The Associated Press reports. She was 97.
The Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed Day’s death, saying she died at her home in Carmel Valley, California, surrounded by close friends. “Day had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia, resulting in her death,” a statement from the Foundation read.
Over the course of her career, Day starred in an array of films, such as the 1951 musical I’ll See You in My Dreams, the 1953 Western Calamity Jane and the 1955 Ruth Etting biopic, Love Me or Leave Me. In 1956, she appeared alongside Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which she also famously sang, “Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).”
Before she was a movie star, Day was notching Number One hits as singer. In 1945, she kicked off a successful run with bandleader Les Brown that resulted in several hits including “Sentimental Journey,” “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time” and “Till the End of Time.” Even as her movie career took off, Day’s singing success continued with songs like “Love Somebody” with Buddy Clark, “A Guy Is a Guy” and “Secret Love.”
During the Fifties and early Sixties, Day came to embody the epitome of mid-20th century American wholesomeness and virtue. As the AP points out, there was a running joke attributed to both Groucho Marx and Oscar Levant, who cracked that they knew Day “before she was a virgin.” Among Day’s most famous films were a string of titillating yet innocent bedroom comedies like 1959’s Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson, 1961’s Lover Come Back and 1963’s The Thrill of It All. Day received her only Academy Award nomination for her turn in Pillow Talk.
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But Day’s actual life was much more tumultuous than her chaste image suggested. Born April 3rd, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio, her dreams of becoming a dancer were shattered at age 12 when a train hit the car she was in, breaking her leg. Though it was while she was recovering that Day discovered her knack for singing.
At age 17, Day married trombonist Al Jorden, but she soon left him, claiming he beat her when she was eight months pregnant. Her second marriage to saxophonist George Weidler didn’t last long either, while her third husband, Martin Melcher, ultimately made a slew of terrible financial decisions that left her deeply in debt. (Day’s son with Jorden, Terry, who later took Melcher’s last name, would go on to work in the music industry; he famously turned down aspiring singer Charlie Manson, and when the Manson family launched their 1969 rampage, it was Terry’s old house they turned up at when they found and killed Sharon Tate and several others.)
Around the time Day became aware of her deep financial troubles, her career was also starting to slow. The sexual revolution was making her bedroom comedies passé, and though she continued to work throughout the Sixties, many of her roles seemed plucked from the previous decade. Day reportedly had the chance to star as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, but turned it down because, as she wrote in her memoir, “it offended my sense of values.” In 1968, Day starred in her last feature film, the romantic comedy With Six You Get Eggroll.
As her film career came to a close, Day — much to her chagrin — found herself on television due to some deals Martin Melcher had made for her. Making the most of a bad situation, Day starred on The Doris Day Show from 1968 to 1973, a successful run that also allowed her to pay off her mounting debts. She also hosted a handful of TV specials, and in the Eighties even returned to television with the talk show Doris Day’s Best Friends. Though it didn’t last long, the Christian program famously featured an interview with Day’s old Pillow Talk co-star, Rock Hudson, who was then visibly suffering from AIDS. That interview is credited with helping de-stigmatize the disease for some Americans.
Day devoted much of the rest of her life advocating for animal rights, while in 2011 she even released a new album, My Heart. In 2004, President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2009 she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Watch some of Day’s most iconic film performances below: