’50s crooner had scan­dalous love life

Los Angeles Times - - Obituaries - Den­nis McLel­lan den­nis.mclel­lan@latimes.com Times staff writ­ers Va­lerie J. Nel­son and Elaine Woo con­trib­uted to this re­port.

As Ed­die Fisher once put it, by the time he was 33, “I had been mar­ried to Amer­ica’s sweet­heart and Amer­ica’s femme fatale, and both mar­riages had ended in scan­dal.

“I’d been one of the most pop­u­lar singers in Amer­ica and had given up my ca­reer for love. I had fa­thered two chil­dren and adopted two chil­dren and rarely saw any of them. I was ad­dicted to metham­phetamines and I couldn’t sleep at night with­out a huge dose of Lib­rium.”

And look­ing back over a tu­mul­tuous life that in­cluded his years with Deb­bie Reynolds and El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, he wrote in his 1999 mem­oir, “Been There, Done That,” that he had learned one im­por­tant les­son: “There were no rules for me. I could get away with any­thing so long as that sound came out of my throat.”

Fisher, who died Wed­nes­day at 82 at his home in Berkeley from com­pli­ca­tions of hip surgery, trav­eled one of the rock­ier roads in show busi­ness, one marked by well-doc­u­mented per­sonal and pro­fes­sional peaks and val­leys.

But there was no deny­ing the im­pact of “that sound” that came out of the darkly hand­some young Philadel­phia na­tive’s throat dur­ing his 1950s hey­day.

“He had the biggest voice I ever heard,” singer Andy Wil­liams told The Times on Fri­day. “I used to do num­bers with him and Bobby Darin on my show. He used to blast the hell out of us. His voice was so big, round and full.”

Be­gin­ning with his first hit, “Think­ing of You,” in 1950, Fisher be­came one of Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lar record­ing artists, a singer whose looks and voice made bobby-sox­ers swoon and spurred the cre­ation of fan club chap­ters around the world.

Dur­ing much of the ‘50s, Fisher had a long string of Top 10 — and No. 1— hits, in­clud­ing “Any Time,” “Tell Me Why,” “I’m Walk­ing Be­hind You,” “I Need You Now” and “Oh! My Pa-Pa.”

He also head­lined night­clubs, made TV guest ap­pear­ances and starred in his own pop­u­lar 15-minute TV mu­sic show, “Coke Time With Ed­die Fisher,” from 1953 to ‘57. That was fol­lowed by “The Ed­die Fisher Show,” an hour-long mu­sic-va­ri­ety pro­gram that aired from 1957 to ‘59.

But in the end, Fisher told the Mi­ami Her­ald in 1999, “it isn’t the mu­sic that peo­ple re­mem­ber most about me. It’s the women.”

His 1955 mar­riage to Reynolds, Hollywood’s girl next door, was greeted with head­lines such as “Amer­ica’s Sweet­hearts Tie Knot.” The mar­riage pro­duced two chil­dren, Car­rie and Todd.

But Fisher out­raged fans when he left Reynolds for Tay­lor af­ter Tay­lor’s hus­band and Fisher’s best friend, film pro­ducer Michael Todd, was killed in a plane crash in 1958. Fisher and Tay­lor were mar­ried the next year.

But then Tay­lor fell in love with Richard Bur­ton dur­ing the film­ing of “Cleopa­tra,” which gen­er­ated an­other round of in­ter­na­tional head­lines and caused Fisher to check into a New York City hos­pi­tal with a re­ported ner­vous break­down in 1962 af­ter re­turn­ing from Rome, where his wife was mak­ing the movie.

The Fisher-Tay­lor divorce be­came fi­nal in 1964.

“This was an era when the movie mag­a­zines were go­ing full force, and the cov­er­age” of Fisher’s ro­man­tic en­tan­gle­ments “sat­u­rated pop­u­lar cul­ture to the max, for years on end,” re­called film re­viewer Kevin Thomas, a for­mer Times staff writer.

Fisher, Thomas said, “was the real loser in all of this. He got heaps of scorn for de­sert­ing Deb­bie. In the mag­a­zines, she was the sweet girl next door who had been cast aside for the le­gendary temptress.”

Fisher’s 1967 mar­riage to ac­tress and singer Con­nie Stevens, with whom he had two daugh­ters, Joely and Trisha Leigh, ended in divorce in 1969.

He was mar­ried to Terry Richard, a for­mer beauty queen, from 1975 to ‘76.

Fisher’s fifth wife, Betty Lin, a Chi­nese-born busi­ness­woman whom he mar­ried in 1993, died in 2001.

Al­though Fisher co-starred with Reynolds in the 1956 com­edy “Bun­dle of Joy” and co-starred with Tay­lor in “BUt­ter­field 8,” the 1960 drama for which Tay­lor won an Os­car, he never de­vel­oped his own film ca­reer.

With the im­pact of rock ‘n’ roll, Fisher’s record sales be­gan to de­cline in the late ‘50s.

“It is very hard to over­es­ti­mate his pop­u­lar­ity in the 1950s,” Thomas said. “He was on TV all the time. He re­ally was big, and then the whole rock ‘n’ roll revo­lu­tion came along. His mu­sic was go­ing out of style, and he would have had a tough time any­way, and then there was all this cov­er­age of his per­sonal busi­ness.”

Fisher was “un­der­es­ti­mated for his nat­u­ral tal­ent and beau­ti­ful voice,” said Michael Fe­in­stein, a singer known for in­ter­pret­ing Amer­i­can stan­dards.

“He was sad­dled with sub­stan­dard ma­te­rial that he was forced to record by his record com­pany,” Fe­in­stein told The Times. “Had he been given the op­por­tu­nity to sing more en­dur­ing mu­sic, to record more en­dur­ing stan­dards, as did Frank Si­na­tra, per­haps he would be bet­ter ac­knowl­edged to­day.”

“He was blessed with an ex­traor­di­nar­ily beau­ti­ful, rich and res­o­nant tenor voice that was quite thrilling,” Fe­in­stein said. “He also had a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem with rhythm, and that some­times got in the way of his abil­ity to in­ter­pret a song.”

In a 1991 in­ter­view with the Chicago Tribune, Fisher said of rock ‘n’ roll: “I did not think that would have any ef­fect on me. I thought I was above and be­yond all that. I thought I had cre­ated this niche and noth­ing could take it away.”

The son of Rus­sian-born Jewish im­mi­grants and one of seven chil­dren, Fisher was born in Philadel­phia on Aug. 10, 1928.

En­cour­aged by his grand­mother to sing Jewish folk songs when he was 2 or 3, Fisher was sing­ing duets in He­brew with the can­tor at their syn­a­gogue by the time he was 7 or 8.

By the time he was 15, he was a lo­cal ra­dio star sing­ing six days a week on three dif­fer­ent shows. His pic­ture ap­peared in ad­ver­tise­ments on the fronts of trol­ley cars and, he later wrote, “the news­pa­pers re­ported that by the time the trol­ley reached the end of the line, my pic­ture was cov­ered with lip­stick.”

Fisher, who dropped out of high school in his se­nior year, sang with the bands of Buddy Mor­row and Char­lie Ven­tura when he was 18. He be­gan achiev­ing na­tional recog­ni­tion on en­ter­tainer Ed­die Can­tor’s ra­dio show in 1949.

Fisher’s bur­geon­ing ca­reer was in­ter­rupted by Army ser­vice from 1951 to ‘53 while he was as­signed to the Army Band en­ter­tain­ing troops in Asia and Europe. Even then, he was del­uged with fan mail.

Fisher at­tempted nu­mer­ous comebacks over the years.

Catch­ing up with the singer dur­ing his en­gage­ment at the West­side Room in 1972, Times writer Mary Mur­phy noted that Fisher of­fered a run­ning bi­o­graph­i­cal com­men­tary be­tween sing­ing his old hits:

“It went some­thing like this, to the sound of snick­er­ing: ‘Bad luck is bet­ter than no luck at all.’ ‘I work alone — fi­nally.’ … ‘I don’t sing pro­fes­sion­ally any­more. It’s a side­line. I’m re­ally a mar­riage coun­selor.’”

Ev­ery­body, Mur­phy wrote, “was in on the put-down. They all knew Ed­die’s se­crets and el­bowed each other to prove it.”

Fisher ex­panded on his “se­crets” in “Been Here, Done That” and his 1981 book “Ed­die: My Life, My Loves,” in which he claimed to have stopped abus­ing drugs. He later re­canted.

“I wrote that book un­der the in­flu­ence,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1991. “Co­caine. That’s what hap­pens with drugs. You lie. You lie a lot.”

He cred­ited fu­ture wife Lin with per­suad­ing him to seek help, which he re­ceived at the Betty Ford Clinic. At the time of the in­ter­view, he had been clean for 18 months.

“That’s the long­est I’ve been sober since I got out of the Army in 1953,” he said. “Re­ally, I’m lucky to be alive and lucky to have a fresh out­look on life.”

In a state­ment from the Fisher fam­ily an­nounc­ing his death, the fam­ily said that “the world lost a true Amer­i­can icon.

“He was loved and will be missed by his four chil­dren: Car­rie, Todd, Joely and Tricia Leigh as well as his six grand­chil­dren. He was an ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent and a true men­sch.”

EN­TER­TAINER

Ed­die Fisher poses in front of his mar­quee at the Trop­i­cana in Las Ve­gas in 1957. The singer

had a string of hits, in­clud­ing “Any Time,” “Tell Me Why” and “Oh! My Pa-Pa.”

Fisher is seen in 1958 be­tween his then-wife, Deb­bie Reynolds, right, and El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, whom he mar­ried the

fol­low­ing year. Fisher mar­ried five times.

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