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Eddie Fisher, ’50s singer whose stardom was shattered by marriage scandals

In 1958 Eddie Fisher and wife Debbie Reynolds (right) met Elizabeth Taylor at a Las Vegas nightclub. Just three months later, he divorced Reynolds and took up with Taylor. In 1958 Eddie Fisher and wife Debbie Reynolds (right) met Elizabeth Taylor at a Las Vegas nightclub. Just three months later, he divorced Reynolds and took up with Taylor. (Associated Press)
By Raquel Maria Dillon
Associated Press / September 24, 2010

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LOS ANGELES — Eddie Fisher, whose huge fame as a pop singer was overshadowed by scandals ending his marriages to Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor, has died. He was 82.

Tricia Leigh Fisher of Los Angeles said her father died Wednesday night of complications from hip surgery at a hospital in Berkeley.

Mr. Fisher’s clear dramatic singing voice brought him a devoted following of teenage girls in the early 1950s. He sold millions of records with 32 hit songs including “Thinking of You,’’ “Any Time,’’ “Oh, My Pa-pa,’’ “I’m Yours,’’ “Wish You Were Here,’’ “Lady of Spain,’’ and “Count Your Blessings.’’

His fame was enhanced by his 1955 marriage to movie darling Debbie Reynolds. They were touted as “America’s favorite couple’’ — and the birth of two children.

Their daughter Carrie Fisher became a film star herself in the first three “Star Wars’’ films as Princess Leia, and later as a best-selling author of “Postcards From the Edge’’ and other books.

When Eddie Fisher’s best friend, producer Mike Todd, was killed in a 1958 plane crash, Mr. Fisher comforted the widow, Elizabeth Taylor. In 1959, amid sensational headlines, he divorced Reynolds and married Taylor.

The union lasted only five years. Taylor fell in love with co-star Richard Burton during the Rome filming of “Cleopatra,’’ divorced Mr. Fisher, and married Burton in one of the great entertainment world scandals of the 20th century.

Mr. Fisher’s career never recovered. He married actress Connie Stevens, and they had two daughters. Another divorce followed. He married two more times.

Edwin Jack Fisher was born Aug. 10, 1928, in Philadelphia, one of seven children of a Jewish grocer. At 15 he was singing on Philadelphia radio.

After moving to New York, Mr. Fisher was adopted as a protege by comedian Eddie Cantor, who helped the young singer become a star in radio, television, and records.

Mr. Fisher’s romantic messages resonated with young girls in the pre-Elvis period. Publicist-manager Milton Blackstone helped the publicity by hiring girls to scream and swoon at Mr. Fisher’s appearances.

After he got out of the Army in 1953 following a two-year hitch, Mr. Fisher’s hit records, his own TV show, and the headlined marriage to Reynolds made him a top star. The couple costarred in a 1956 romantic comedy, “Bundle of Joy,’’ that capitalized on their own parenthood.

In 1960 he played a role in “Butterfield 8,’’ for which Taylor won an Academy Award. But that film marked the end of his movie career.

After being discarded by Taylor, Mr. Fisher became the butt of comedians’ jokes. He began relying on drugs to get through performances, and his bookings dwindled. He later said he had made and spent $20 million during his heyday, and much of it went to gambling and drugs.

In 1983, Mr. Fisher attempted a full-scale comeback. But his old fans had been turned off by the scandals, and the younger generation had been turned on by rock. The tour was unsuccessful.

He had added to his notoriety that year with an autobiography, “Eddie: My Life, My Loves.’’ Of his first three marriages, he wrote that he had been bullied into marriage with Reynolds, whom he didn’t know well; became nursemaid as well as husband to Taylor, and was reluctant to marry Connie Stevens but she was pregnant and he “did the proper thing.’’

Mr. Fisher had two children with Reynolds: Carrie and Todd; and two girls with Stevens: Joely and Tricia.