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Cindy Williams of 'Laverne & Shirley,' 'American Graffiti' Dies at 75


Cindy Williams, the actress known for her performances on "Laverne & Shirley" and in the film "American Graffiti," died Wednesday at 75 after "a brief illness," "Extra" has confirmed.

A statement from her children reads, "The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed. 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."

"We have always been, and will remain, SO proud of her for many things," the statement goes on. "Her lifelong mission to rescue animals, her prolific artistry, her faith, and, most of all, her ability to make the world laugh! May that laughter continue in everyone, because she would want that. Thank you for loving our Mom. She loved you, too."

Cynthia Jane Williams was born August 22, 1947, in Van Nuys, California, spending part of her childhood in Dallas before returning to her hometown.

At first, Williams worked steadily in commercials — including for Foster Grant and TWA. She made her TV debut at the dawn of the '70s on an episode of the series "My World and Welcome to It" (1970) and "Barefoot in the Park" (1970), and the same year appeared in the Roger Corman film "Gas-s-s-s" (1970).

Her film career heated up quickly, with Williams working in the Larry Hagman-directed "Beware! The Blob" (1972), the legendary George Cukor's "Travels with My Aunt" (1972), Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" (1974), and "The First Nudie Musical" (1976).

But her breakthrough was as Laurie in George Lucas' nostalgic surprise smash "American Graffiti" (1973), for which she was nominated for a BAFTA as Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 1975. Her competition? Ingrid Bergman, Sylvia Sidney and Sylvia Syms (who also died this week).

Though "American Graffiti" seemed a period piece, it chronicled the events of a wild night just 11 years before the film was released.

In its wake, Williams came back for "More American Graffiti" (1979) and in the meantime was cast as a "fast" girl named Shirley Feeney — alongside Penny Marshall's Laverne DeFazio — on a 1975 episode of the '50s-set "Happy Days." That appearance led to a spin-off called "Laverne & Shirley" (1976-1982) — on which Shirley was retooled as a charming square — which went on to become an enduring comedy classic, thanks to the physical humor and the chemistry between Williams and Marshall.

After 158 episodes, Williams exited before "Laverne & Shirley" ended.

Post-"Laverne & Shirley," Williams focused on features and TV movies, among them 1988's "Tricks of the Trade" with Markie Post and John Ritter, the feature "Big Man on Campus" (1989), and the 2016 Hallmark holiday film "A Dream of Christmas."

Later episodic-TV gigs included on "8 Simple Rules" (2008), "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (2004), "Girlfriends" (2004 & 2005), "Sam & Cat" (2013), and "The Odd Couple" (2016).

Other features in which she appeared included "The Creature Wasn't Nice" (1981), "UFOria" (1984), "Rude Awakening" (1989), "Bingo" (1991), "Meet Wally Sparks" (1997), "The Biggest Fan" (2005), "Stealing Roses" (2012), and her final film, "Still Waiting in the Wings" (2018).

She was a co-producer of "Father of the Bride" (1991) and its sequel (1995).

In addition to her TV and movie work, Williams had extensive stage credits. She performed in national tours of "Death Trap" with Elliott Gould, "Nunsense" "Grease," "The Female Odd Couple," performed three years in "Menopause: The Musical" in Las Vegas, and made her Broadway debut in 2006 in the Tony-winning "The Drowsy Chaperone."

Williams had recently finished a national theater tour with her one-woman show "Me, Myself & Shirley" to glowing reviews. Her revealing, anecdote-rich memoir "Shirley, I Jest!: A Storied Life" with Dave Smitherman was published in 2015.

Williams was married to Bill Hudson of the Hudson Brothers from 1982 until their 2000 divorce. They are the parents of Zak and Emily, who survive her.

Williams was remembered by a host of celebrities online, among them the final surviving main cast member of "Laverne & Shirley," Michael McKean:

Carole Ita White, who was Big Rosie Greenbaum on several episodes, wrote on Facebook, "Sadly, I repeat the news of Cindy Williams passing. She was a good actor, and a nice girl. Condolences to her family, and all the millions who loved her. Rest in Peace...and best to Laverne if you should bump into her."

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