Cindy Williams, who played the optimistic Shirley opposite Penny Marshall’s Laverne on the beloved sitcom Laverne & Shirley, has died. She was 75.
Williams died on Wednesday in Los Angeles following a brief illness, her children, Zak and Emily Hudson, confirmed in a statement released Monday to the Associated Press through a family spokesperson.
“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.”
Williams was born in in Van Nuys, California on Aug. 22, 1947, and was the oldest of two daughters. Her father, Beachard, worked at an electronics manufacturing company while her mother, Frances, was a waitress.
Williams got her first big break in 1973 with George Lucas’ American Graffiti where she portrayed Laurie, the girlfriend of Ron Howard’s Steve Bolander. The film became a box office hit and was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. She followed up with a role in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation in 1974.
A few years later, she took on her best-known role playing Shirley in the Happy Days ABC spinoff, Laverne & Shirley, which ran on air from 1976 to 1983. Laverne & Shirley soon surpassed Happy Days as the most popular show on television.
Williams played the optimistic Shirley, the counterpart to Marshall’s more libertine Laverne on the show about a pair of roommates that worked at a Milwaukee bottling factory in the 1950s and Sixties.
Though the series set its title characters up as temperamental opposites, its sensibilities were far more lined up with Laverne’s brass than Shirley’s timidity. It constructed big slapstick set pieces, putting few limits on the kinds of insults Laverne would swap with neighbors Lenny (Michael McKean) and Squiggy (David Lander).
Laverne & Shirley was known almost as much for its famous opening sequence, as the actual show. the theme brought a bit of the Marshall siblings’ Noo Yawk upbringing to the Midwest, and the rest of the country, as Marshall and Williams skipped down a sidewalk while calling out Yiddish words like “shlemiel” (a man who spills soup) and “shlemazel” (a man upon whom the soup gets spilled) before the soaring theme music kicked in.
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