Cindy Williams, who was among the most recognizable stars in America in the 1970s and 1980s for her role as Shirley opposite Penny Marshall's Laverne on the beloved sitcom Laverne & Shirley, has died.
Williams died at age 75 after a brief illness, her children, Zak and Emily Hudson, said in 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.”
Williams worked with some of Hollywood's most elite directors in a film career that preceded her full-time move to television, appearing in George Cukor's 1972 Travels With My Aunt, George Lucas' 1973 American Graffiti and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation from 1974.
But she was by far best known for Laverne & Shirley, the Happy Days spinoff that ran on ABC from 1976 to 1983 that in its prime was among the most popular shows on TV.
Williams played the straitlaced Shirley Feeney to Marshall's more libertine Laverne DeFazio on the show about a pair of blue-collar roommates who toiled on the assembly line of a Milwaukee brewery in the 1950s and 1960s.
The series was the rare network hit about working-class characters, with its self-empowering opening song: “Give us any chance, we’ll take it, read us any rule, we’ll break it."
That opening would become as popular as the show itself. Williams’ and Marshall’s chant of “schlemiel, schlimazel” as they skipped along together became a cultural phenomenon and oft-invoked piece of nostalgia.
Williams was born one of two sisters in the Van Nuys area of Los Angeles in 1947. Her family moved to Dallas soon after she was born, but returned to Los Angeles, where she would take up acting while attending Birmingham High School and a major in theater arts at LA City College.
Her acting career began with small roles in television starting in 1969, with appearances on Room 222, Nanny and the Professor and Love, American Style.
Her part in Lucas' American Graffiti would become a defining role. The film was a forerunner to a nostalgia boom for the 1950s and early 1960s that would follow.
Happy Days, starring her American Graffiti co-star Ron Howard, would premiere the following year. The characters of Laverne and Shirley made their first TV appearance as dates of Henry Winkler's Fonzie before they got their own show.
Lucas also considered her for the role of Princess Leia in Star Wars, a role that went to Carrie Fisher.
In the past three decades, Williams made guest appearances on dozens of TV series including 7th Heaven, 8 Simple Rules and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. In 2013, she and Marshall appeared in a Laverne & Shirley tribute episode of the Nickelodeon series Sam and Cat.