Cindy Williams, who played the titular character of Shirley Feeney in the 1970s sitcom "Laverne & Shirley," has died, her family confirmed on Monday. She was 75. She died on January 25 following a brief illness, her children, Zak and Emily Hudson, said via a statement released through family spokeswoman Liza Cranis.
"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."
Star in Her Own Right
Williams also acted in the 1974 film "The Conversation," directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and the 1973 movie "American Graffiti," directed by George Lucas, for which she was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress.
However, "Laverne & Shirley," the "Happy Days" spinoff that ran on ABC from 1976 to 1983 and, during its heyday, was among the most watched sitcoms on television, was by far her most well-known role.
Nominated for a Golden Globe, Williams played the strict Shirley to Marshall's more libertine Laverne on the show, which portrayed roommates who were blue-collar workers at a Milwaukee bottling factory in the 1950s and 1960s.
Williams was born in Los Angeles in 1947 and spent her formative years writing and acting at Birmingham High School where she was classmates with Sally Field and Michael Ovitz.
She began her career as an actress in the early 1970s, appearing in TV comedies like "Barefoot in the Park" and "Room 222", before being cast by the late, great director George Cukor in the film "Travels With My Aunt in 1972."
She later got the part of Laurie, Steve's girlfriend in George Lucas' "American Graffiti", for which she was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress. Williams was a contender for the character of Princess Leia Organa, but Carrie Fisher ultimately won the role.
Williams then starred in Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 Best Picture nominee "The Conversation".
Leaving Behind Her Mark
Williams first went on a double date with Penny Marshall, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 75, before being hired by Coppola's American Zoetrope to create a TV parody for the American Bicentennial. They apparently played a significant role in the quality of the show, even contributing to some of the rewrites.
"We had a litmus test, which was if the script made Penny and me laugh out loud. That's what we were going for ... to make the studio audience laugh out loud, then we figured it would translate to the audience at home," Williams said once in a TVParty.com interview.
"So, if it made us laugh out loud at rehearsal, then we knew it was good to go. When it didn't, we would re-write it, or try and put things in that made it funny. Once we got the show on its feet and started moving around, we would add things, add lines, and ad lib. The whole cast would."
Marshall's brother Garry Marshall invited Marshall and Williams to star in his popular television series "Happy Days" as Shirley Feeney and Laverne DeFazio, two dates for Fonzie (Henry Winkler).
The spin-off series "Laverne & Shirley", developed by Lowell Ganz, Garry Marshall, and Mark Rothman, chronicled the title characters' exploits as single women during the 1950s and 1960s since their appearance was so well-liked.
However, as ratings fell in the sixth season, the protagonists relocated from Milwaukee to Burbank, California, surrendering their brewery jobs for jobs at a department shop.
Williams got pregnant in 1982, following which she requested her work hours be curtailed. She left the set after her demands weren't met and sued the production company that owned it.
The show ran for eight seasons, but Williams resigned after the second episode of the last season when she became pregnant.
Williams made a comeback to television in the 1990s with the shows "Normal Life" and "Getting By" after appearing in several TV movies in the 1980s.
She continued to work regularly over the years, even rejoining with Marshall (who passed away in 2018) in a 2013 episode of Sam & Cat dedicated to "Laverne & Shirley". In 2015, she released "Shirley, I Jest!", a book she co-wrote with Dave Smitherman.
Williams was married to Bill Hudson of the famed Hudson Brothers from 1982 until their 2000 divorce.