LOS ANGELES (AP) — Cindy Williams, who was among America’s most recognizable stars in the 1970s and 80s for her role as Shirley opposite Penny Marshall’s Laverne on the beloved sitcom “Laverne & Shirley,” is deceased, her family announced on Monday.
Williams died Wednesday in Los Angeles at the age of 75 after a brief illness, her children, Zak and Emily Hudson, said in a statement released by family spokeswoman Liza Cranis.
“The passing of our lovable and hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us an insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed,” the statement read. “Knowing and loving her has been our joy and our privilege. She was one of a kind, beautiful, generous, and had a brilliant sense of humor and a sparkling wit that everyone loved.
Williams worked with some of Hollywood’s most prestigious directors in a film career that preceded his full-time stint in television, appearing in George Cukor’s 1972 “Travels With My Aunt”, George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” in 1973 and “The Conversation” by Francis Ford Coppola. from 1974.
But she was by far best known for “Laverne & Shirley,” the “Happy Days” spinoff that aired on ABC from 1976 to 1983 and, at its peak, was among the most popular shows on television.
Williams played Marshall’s kinkier Shirley Feeney, kinkier Laverne DeFazio on the show about a pair of blue-collar roommates who worked on the assembly line of a Milwaukee brewery in the 1950s and 1960s.
“They were beloved characters,” Williams told The Associated Press in 2002.
DeFazio was hot-tempered and defensive; Feeney was naive and confident. The actors drew inspiration from their own lives for plot inspiration.
“We would make a list at the start of each season of the talent we had,” Marshall told the AP in 2002. “Cindy could touch her tongue to her nose and we used that in the show. I made tapshoes.
Williams told the AP in 2013 that she and Marshall had “very different personalities,” but the stories of the two clashing while making the show were “a bit of a stretch.”
The series was the network’s rare hit on working-class characters, with its empowering opening song: “Give us a chance, we’ll take it, read us any rule, we’ll break it.”
This opening would become as popular as the show itself. Williams and Marshall’s chanting “schlemiel, schlimazel” as they jumped together has become a cultural phenomenon and an often invoked piece of nostalgia.
Marshall, whose brother, Garry Marshall, co-created the series, died in 2018.
The show also starred Michael McKean and David Lander as Laverne and Shirley’s bizarre hangers – on Lenny and Squiggy. Lander died in 2020.
As the ratings waned during the sixth season, the characters moved from Milwaukee to Burbank, California, trading their brewery jobs for work at a department store.
In 1982, Williams became pregnant and wanted her working hours reduced. When her demands were not met, she walked off the set and sued her production company. She appeared infrequently in the final season.
Williams was born one of two sisters in the Van Nuys area of Los Angeles in 1947. Her family moved to Dallas shortly after her birth, but returned to Los Angeles, where she began acting while dating Birmingham High School and a major in drama. arts at LA City College.
Her acting career began with small television roles beginning in 1969, with appearances in “Room 222”, “Nanny and the Professor”, and “Love, American Style”.
Her role in Lucas’ “American Graffiti” would become a defining role. The film was a precursor to a nostalgic 1950s and early 1960s boom that was to follow. “Happy Days”, with its “American Graffiti” co-star Ron Howard, would premiere the following year. Laverne and Shirley’s characters first appeared on television as Henry Winkler’s Fonzie dates before getting their own show.
Lucas also considered her for the role of Princess Leia in “Star Wars,” a role that went to Carrie Fisher.
Over the past three decades, Williams has made guest appearances on dozens of television series, including “7th Heaven,” “8 Simple Rules,” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” In 2013, she and Marshall appeared in a “Laverne & Shirley” tribute episode of the Nickelodeon series “Sam and Cat.”
Last year, Williams appeared in a solo show filled with stories from her career, ‘Me, Myself and Shirleyat a theater in Palm Springs, Calif., near her home in Desert Hot Springs.
Williams was married to singer Bill Hudson of the musical group The Hudson Brothers from 1982 to 2000. Hudson was the father of her two children. He was previously married to Goldie Hawn and is also the father of actor Kate Hudson.
Follow AP Entertainment writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton