Eddie Fisher dies at 82; 1950s singing star brought low by scandalous love life

Eddie Fisher, the '50s singer whose fame was overshadowed by scandals ending his marriages to Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor, died Wednesday of complications from hip surgery.
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 2010; 5:25 PM

Eddie Fisher, a pop-singing sensation of the 1950s who was at the center of one of Hollywood's most notorious romantic scandals when he divorced actress Debbie Reynolds to marry Elizabeth Taylor, died Sept. 22 at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 82 and had complications from recent hip surgery.

Mr. Fisher vaulted to fame in the early 1950s, selling tens of millions of records and charting dozens of Top 10 hits, including "Tell Me Why," "I'm Walking Behind You" and "Oh, My Pa-Pa." His beckoning tenor voice made him America's favorite teen idol in the years just before rock-and-roll made his stiff, heavily orchestrated music obsolete.

His stardom was soon overshadowed by the lurid drama surrounding his all-too-public love life. In 1955, he married the pert and popular Reynolds, and they were soon dubbed "America's favorite couple." They starred in the movie "Bundle of Joy" in 1956 and soon had two children of their own, including actress Carrie Fisher, who later played Princess Leia in "Star Wars."

The Fishers were close friends with Taylor and her husband at the time, Hollywood producer Mike Todd. After Todd was killed in an airplane crash in March 1958, Mr. Fisher consoled the grieving Taylor, and a romance soon bloomed. The public turned against Mr. Fisher when he divorced Reynolds in 1959 and married Taylor.

The glamorous couple had homes in Italy and Switzerland and were constant fodder for the gossip mill. In later years, Mr. Fisher said he tried in vain to get Taylor to limit her heavy drinking and pleaded with the servants to cut her off after five cocktails.

Taylor said she found Mr. Fisher equally unstable. According to her memoirs, she awoke one night in their Italian villa to find him pointing a gun at her head.

"Don't worry, Elizabeth," he said, in the words of the memoir. "I'm not going to kill you. You're too beautiful."

Mr. Fisher had a role in the 1960 drama "Butterfield 8," for which Taylor won an Oscar as best actress, but by then he was already fading from fame. But when Taylor went to Rome a year later to film "Cleopatra," she fell into the arms of her co-star Richard Burton.

Awkwardly hoping for a reconciliation, Mr. Fisher became the most famous cuckold in the world and was the butt of comedy routines and salacious scandal sheets. When he called Taylor at one of their homes, Burton answered the phone and explained in crudely graphic terms exactly why he was there with Taylor.

In his 1999 memoir "Been There, Done That," Mr. Fisher wrote with some bewilderment: "I was Eddie Fisher - women loved me, they didn't cheat on me."

He finally agreed to a divorce in 1964.

"At some point after working with Burton," Mr. Fisher wrote in a 1981 memoir, "I think she began to see me as a jailer. I was spoiling her fun."

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