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Decider Essentials

The Essential Debbie Reynolds

Where to Stream

Singin' in the Rain

The sad news of 2016 got even sadder on Wednesday when the news came out that Debbie Reynolds, 84-year-old Hollywood legend, died after suffering a stroke, one day after her daughter, actress Carrie Fisher, died after suffering cardiac arrest. The sudden loss of the famous mother/daughter pair at the end of the same year that has seen the deaths of Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Garry Marshall, Curtis Hanson, Florence Henderson, Leonard Cohen, Anton Yelchin, Gene Wilder, Muhammad Ali, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, and Alan Rickman has felt especially cruel.

In the wake of this sudden loss of yet another of our entertainment icons, we should take a time to remember some of the movies that made Debbie Reynolds into the beloved actress she was. She came of age in the old studio system, working for names like Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner, singing and dancing in musicals, stepping into the role of America’s sweetheart, going through one of the great Hollywood scandals of its time when her husband, Eddie Fisher, left her for Elizabeth Taylor. It’s the films, now, that will endure for her.

These five are some of her best and most emblematic, though it should be noted that some of Reynolds’ work — like the horror film she made with Shelley Winters, What’s the Matter with Helen?; or her multiple episodes playing Grace’s mother, Bobbi Adler, on Will & Grace —isn’t currently available to stream. Here’s hoping that changes soon.

'Singin' in the Rain' (1952)

Before she was cast in Singin’ in the Rain, Debbie Reynolds didn’t know how to dance, if you can believe that. She learned on the job, keeping up with the titanic talents of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Together, the trio sang and danced their way into Hollywood history. Singin’ in the Rain is universally acknowledged as being one of the best movie musicals — if not the best — in film history. It’s made the top 10 of the American Film Institute’s list of best movies of all time. It is emblematic of old Hollywood and classic musicals and the star system at its finest. And it made Debbie Reynolds a star.

Where to stream 'Singin' in the Rain'

'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' (1964)

The second of Reynolds’ two signature roles came in this 1964 MGM musical about the real-life Maggie Brown, who enjoyed a rags-to-riches success and was a passenger aboard the Titanic who survived the historic sinking. Reynolds charged into the role with the kind of energy that earned raves, and the film has been synonymous with her ever since. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Debbie Reynolds’ only competitive Oscar nomination (she won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award last year).

Where to stream 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown'

'Divorce American Style' (1967)

Norman Lear — creator of landmark TV series like All in the Family and Maude — wrote this dark comedy that served as the sign of the times as the ’60s began to give way to modern concerns like infidelity, sex, and divorce. Reynolds and Dick Van Dyke starred as an unhappily married couple who separate, only for Van Dyke and his similarly divorced friend (Jason Robards) to hatch a plan to get Reynolds married off to someone else in order to get out of alimony payments. The sexual revolution, folks!

Where to stream 'Divorce American Style'

'Charlotte's Web' (1973)

Many don’t know that Debbie Reynolds provided the voice of Charlotte, the benevolent, maternal, friendly, and industrious spider whose efforts end up sparing the life of cheerful pig Wilbur. The book was a children’s classic, and the animated film quickly became so as well, if only because it’s the biggest guaranteed cry in the children’s literary canon.

Stream 'Charlotte's Web' (1973) on HBO GO.

'Mother'

Not counting TV guest appearances and cameos, Debbie Reynolds had only been in one movie (Oliver Stone’s Heaven & Earth) between 1971 and 1996. That 25-year drought was ended in a major way with Albert Brooks’ comedy Mother. Reynolds plays Brooks’ titular mom, a hall-of-famer in the fields of passive aggression and strategic obliviousness. Reynolds got raves for her comeback performance, a Golden Globe nomination, and came within a hair’s breadth of an Oscar nomination. Moreover, the film re-ignited her career, with subsequent roles in In & OutHalloweentownWill & Grace, and Behind the Candelabra.

Stream 'Mother' on Netflix

BONUS: 'Postcards from the Edge'

While you’re at it, why not stream Postcards from the Edge, the Mike Nichols-directed 1990 movie adapted by Carrie Fisher from her own novel of the same name. Meryl Streep plays a fictionalized version of Fisher herself, an actress plagued by substance abuse and emotional distress, partially due to a complicated relationship with her Hollywood-legend mother, played by Shirley MacLaine. The movie itself is needle-sharp and very funny, and for decades the on-screen relationship between Streep and MacLaine has been a stand-in for Fisher and Reynolds’ real-life relationship. Watch it for if nothing else the scene where MacLaine performs “I’m Still Here” and takes up all the oxygen in the room.

Where to stream 'Postcards from the Edge'