Cindy Williams, the energetic actress who appeared in a pair of Oscar best picture nominees before starring as the idealistic Shirley Feeney on the beloved ABC sitcom Laverne & Shirley, has died. She was 75.
Williams died in Los Angeles on Wednesday after a brief illness, her children, Zak and Emily Hudson, said in a statement released Monday.
“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.”
After popping up as a pot-smoking hippie in the Maggie Smith-starring Travels With My Aunt (1972), one of the last films directed by George Cukor, Williams took her first big turn in the spotlight when she portrayed Laurie, the girlfriend of Ron Howard’s Steve Bolander, in American Graffiti (1973), directed by George Lucas.
The box office smash was nominated for best picture, as was her follow-up movie, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), where she played a woman in danger, or so it seemed. (On Oscar night, American Graffiti and The Conversation lost out to The Sting and The Godfather Part II, respectively.)
In 1975, Williams and Penny Marshall were writing partners working for $30 a week on a bicentennial spoof for Coppola’s Zoetrope company when Garry Marshall hired them for an episode of ABC’s Happy Days.
Portraying “fast girls” — Penny thought that meant hookers — recruited by Fonzie (Henry Winkler) for a double date with Richie Cunningham (Howard), the pair displayed an immediate onscreen chemistry.
“We sort of had telepathy,” Williams said in a 2013 interview for the TV Academy Foundation website The Interviews. “If we walk into a room together and if there’s something unique in the room, we’ll see it at the same time and have the same comment about it. We were always just like that.”
Garry Marshall then pitched a comedy that starred the duo to ABC entertainment chief Fred Silverman. “There are no shows about blue-collar girls on the air,” he recalled in 2000. “He said, ‘It’s on! What’s its name?’ ‘I said, Laverne & Shirley.’ ‘Good, I love it!’”