Doris Day, Beloved Icon of Music and Film, Dead at 97
Doris Day, a household name who made her mark in music, film, and TV, going on to become one of the world's most beloved entertainers, has died. She was 97.
Her death was announced in a press release from her Doris Day Animal Foundation, which confirmed, "Day had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia, resulting in her death. She was surrounded by a few close friends as she passed."
Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the future star first cut a rug as part of a dancing duo in the '30s. A serious leg injury led her to discover, while recuperating and singing along to the day's hits, that she had a good voice, enough so that she soon landed a paid job on local radio.
Discovered by orchestra leader Barney Rapp — the man who suggested she go by Doris Day — she tasted national success with a dozen hit singles recorded with Les Brown, including the #1 smashes "Sentimental Journey" (1945) and "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time" (1945).
She transitioned to film with 1948's "Romance on the High Seas," establishing herself as a singing actress, one whose titular performance in the musical "Calamity Jane" (1953) was her personal favorite of all her film work.
"Young Man with a Horn" (1950) had shown could handle a dramatic role with aplomb, as did "Love Me or Leave Me" (1955), a biopic of singer Ruth Etting, and the Hitchcock classic "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956), in which she introduced her signature tune, the Oscar-winning "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)."
She was far more comfortable with innocent-with-a-wink romantic comedies, and was considered the queen of the form, most memorably in "The Pajama Game" (1958) and a series of collaborations with good friend Rock Hudson that played up her improbably (she was well into her thirties) virginal image: "Pillow Talk" (1959), for which she received her first and only Oscar nomination; "Lover Come Back" (1961); and "Send Me No Flowers" (1964). So effective was her girl-next-door act that Day was a top box-office draw of the early '60s, scoring with "That Touch of Mink" (1962) with Cary Grant; "Move Over, Darling" (1963) with James Garner, a film that had originally been meant for Marilyn Monroe prior to her untimely death; and "Do Not Disturb" (1965) with Rod Taylor.
In spite of her command of the box office, Day's "Suzy Creamcheese" persona became rapidly dated as the films of the '60s took a turn toward gritty realism and graphic sexuality — she missed her chance to be Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate" (1967), turning her nose up at the film's "vulgar" script — and Day's film career ground to a halt with 1968's "With Six You Get Eggroll."
It was a jolt for the only female (Shirley Temple being the other) to be named the country's #1 box-office draw four times.
At this time, upon the death of third husband Martin Melcher, Day discovered that he had squandered her vast fortune, which led to a series of lawsuits that would drag on for decades. More immediately, she found she had been committed to a weekly TV series she did not wish to do, but made the best of it, carrying "The Doris Day Show" (1968-1973) through five uneven seasons.
She also starred in two TV specials.
After her series ended, so did her acting career — she never gave another performance. She did lend her voice to an episode of the series "The Governor & J.J." in 1970, but her only other major on-camera appearances — outside of sparse interviews — were hosting gigs related to her love of animals: "The Pet Set" (1971) and "Doris Day's Best Friends" (1985-1986). The latter became known as Rock Hudson's last TV appearance — he guested while visibly ill amid rumors he was dying of AIDS complications.
Day published a frank memoir, "Doris Day: Her Own Story," in 1975 and promoted it by questioning why she was always put forth as "the world's oldest virgin," considering her love life, but as always, seemed to take matters of image in stride. She also said in the book, written with A.E. Hotchner, "I have never found in a human being loyalty comparable to that of any pet."
In recent years, Day made headlines for admitting she was really 95, not 93, in 2017, claiming never to have known her true birth year was 1922. She made a habit of appearing on the balcony of her home in Carmel-by-the-Sea — the same place where she co-owned the Cypress Inn — where she would wave to gathered fans on the occasion of her birthday. In 2014, she shocked attendees of a birthday tribute meant to raise funds for her animal foundation by making an unscheduled appearance and posing for photos.
A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, Day was often discussed as a potential honorary Oscar recipient, but she steadfastly refused to appear at the ceremony to collect the theoretical honor.
Just a month ago, Day granted a phone interview to THR as she turned 97, summing up her legacy in film by saying, "I enjoyed working and always tried to do the best job I could with every role. I'm thrilled to know that people are still watching my films and are uplifted by them."
Day was married four times, the last marriage ending in divorce in 1981. She was predeceased by her son, Terry Melcher, in 2004.
She was remembered by scores of entertainment figures this morning on Twitter:
This morning I was saddened to learn that Doris Day who starred in a film I had written "The Thrill Of It All" had passed away at 97. Just a week ago, I contacted her and welcomed her to the 97 Year Actor's Club.
For those of us in my generation, Doris Day was synonymous with Hollywood icon. She would no doubt remind us, upon this day of her passing, “Que sera sera,” but we will miss her dearly anyway. Rest now in our hearts forever, Ms. Day.