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Cindy Williams, who played Shirley in ‘Laverne & Shirley,’ dies at 75

Cindy Williams, who played Shirley Feeney in “Laverne & Shirley,” died at age 75. (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)
3 min

Actress Cindy Williams, who played the upbeat Shirley to Penny Marshall’s gruff Laverne in the hit 70s television show “Laverne & Shirley,” has died, according to a family spokesperson. Williams was 75.

She “passed away after a short illness” in Los Angeles on Wednesday, according to spokeswoman Liza Cranis.

Williams’s children Emily and Zak said in a statement: “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.”

Neither schlemiel nor schlimazel, Williams has been heralded as one of America’s most talented physical comedians.

From 1976 to 1983, she co-starred with Marshall on ABC’s “Laverne & Shirley” — a spinoff of the smash sitcom “Happy Days,” playing employees in a Milwaukee beer-bottling plant who lived together, sharing misadventures in dating and on the job.

The pair were inspired by the Queen of American television slapstick, Lucille Ball, and continued down the comedic path that she and Carol Burnett had blazed years earlier.

The show’s intro of the two women’s rhythmic counting — “A One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight! Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” — before Cyndi Grecco’s “Making Our Dreams Come True” plays is as beloved as the series itself.

(An old saying explains the difference between the Yiddish words that roughly goes: A schlemiel spills their soup on someone else. A schlimazel is the person they spilled it on.)

In 1982 Williams would sue Paramount TV and producer Garry Marshall (Penny’s brother) for $20 million, alleging they went back on a deal to accommodate her pregnancy and still pay her $75,000 per episode plus a piece of the profits, according to the Los Angeles Times. They settled out of court. The actresses reconciled before Penny Marshall died in 2018.

Williams first became interested in acting during high school, according to a biography provided by Cranis. After high school, she majored in theater arts at Los Angeles City College.

Williams was a native of Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles, per her biography. Williams also performed in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” in 1974 and George Lucas’s “American Graffiti” in 1973.

The actress graced the stage, including a national tour of “Grease” as Miss Lynch, according to a biography from the website of her one-woman show. Williams also had a stint as Ouiser Boudreaux in an adaptation of “Steel Magnolias,” played in the film by another Shirley — MacLaine.

More than a talented actor, Williams also helped produce the successful 1991 remake of “The Father of the Bride” with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton, according to IMDb.

“May that laughter continue in everyone, because she would want that,” her children wrote. “Thank you for loving our Mom, she loved you too.”

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