Eddie Fisher, the diminutive 1950s pop star known as “The Jewish Sinatra” who divorced Debbie Reynolds to marry Elizabeth Taylor and was the father of “Star Wars” star Carrie Fisher, died at the age of 82 in Berkeley, California on Wednesday, September 22nd. The cause was complications from hip surgery.
Fisher had been hospitalized since September 13 after breaking his hip.
Although Fisher had million-selling records at the beginning of his long career, he is being remembered for the women in his life. In addition to Reynolds, Taylor and his daughter Carrie, Fisher was also married to singer-actress Connie Stevens and the father of actress Joley Fisher. In all, he was married five times. Four of those marriages ended in divorce while his last wife died of lung cancer in 2010.
Eddie FiIsher earned a reputation for infamy by being involved in two of the biggest celebrity scandals of the 1950s and 1960s: Leaving his story-book marriage (at least in the eyes of the press) to “America’s Sweetheart” Debbie Reynolds for the recently widowed Elizabeth Taylor (one of the top box office stars in the world at the time), and then losing Liz to Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra (1963), which itself was infamous as the most expensive movie ever made.(Cleopatra wound up bankrupting Twentieth Century-Fox and Taylor’s antics with Burton were blamed for the staggering cost overruns.)
In 1958, Liz Taylor had recently lost her husband, Oscar-winning producer Mike Todd, when Eddie moved in on her in the guise of providing solace and comfort. Mike Todd had been Eddie Fisher’s best friend. The romance and divorce publicly humiliated Debbie Reynolds and the blowback effectively derailed Fisher’s singing career. His TV show, The Eddie Fisher Show, was promptly cancelled as he had lost his wholesome image, which was a critical component of popularity until Liz’s later romance created modern celebrity as we know it, with its “anything goes” mentality.
Fisher was ridiculed for leaving his wife for the widow of his best friend. At the Jewish wedding ceremony (Liz had converted from the Church of England to marry Mike Todd), one newsman cracked that it was a double-ring ceremony: One for Liz’s finger and one for Eddie’s nose.
Four years later, in a case of what goes around comes around, it was Fisher’s turn to be on the short end of the stick.
“La scandale” it was called throughout the world: Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher’s adulterous romance with the married Richard Burton. Liz was denounced on the floor of the Senate. La scandale made Eddie Fisher the most famous cuckold in the history of the world, since Alisoun took on the student boarder in Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale.”
Interestingly, La scandale made Liz Taylor an even bigger star and catapulted Richard Burton — then a journeyman actor more respected for his stage work than his screen persona — to superstar status. Being dumped by Liz and catapulted from the Olympus of her own superstardom, Fisher plummeted in status and remained a C- and D-list entertainer for the rest of his life.
Born Edwin Jack Fisher in Philadelphia on August 10, 1928, Eddie was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants whose name was “Americanized” to Fisher. Like many Jewish-American singers, he first sang publicly at temple, then later sang at the Catskills resorts that catered to Jews in those segregated times. The young crooner was taken under the wing of the entertainer Eddie Cantor, a superstar of the time, and his singing career began to flourish.
From 1951 until 1956, Fisher placed 23 songs in the Top 10, including four number 1’s. (An additional song clocked in at #11 on the charts.) In all, 50 of his songs cracked the Top 40. Signed to the RCA Victor label, only Perry Como (with whom he sang on his #3 hit “Maybe” in 1951) and Elvis Presley sold more records in the 1950s.
The advent of Presley and rock ‘n’ roll effectively doomed his career as his crooning style went out of favor. Perry Como, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra (whom he was often compared to) did manage to survive the onslaught of rock, but their talent was pitched at a higher caliber.
At the height of his fame in 1953/54, Eddie Fisher headlined Coke Time on TV and had a $1-million endorsement deal with Coca-Cola (at least $8 million in 2010 dollars, when factored for inflation). Debbie Reynolds accepted Fisher’s proposal of marriage, despite being warned not to marry a singer by Frank Sinatra. They got hitched in 1955 and had two children, daughter Carrie in 1956 and son Todd (named after his best friend Mike Todd) in 1958.
After divorcing Debbie Reynolds to marry Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher’s career took a nose-dive. The 5’4″ Fisher never clicked in motion pictures, as did Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other singers. He did have a bit part in Liz Taylor’s BUtterfield-8, in which she won her first Oscar for playing a doomed whore, but Eddie’s role as best friend could have been played by anyone, and practically anyone would have been more memorable.
With his own career in the doldrums, in the early 1960s he was being pulled along in the wake created by the hull of the Good Ship Liz. (Mike Todd’s airplane that had crashed, thus opening up the role of Queen Elizabeth of Moviedom’s consort, had been named “The Lucky Liz.”)
He became a public laughing stock when Liz’s affair with Richard Burton went public. Now considered a second- if not third-rate talent, he was forced to play Vegas when that was a place for washed-up has-beens if you weren’t Frank or Dino. He hit the nightclub circuit, playing in smaller venues as the decade wore down.
In the early ’60s, he even tried to profit on his reputation as a cuckold and loser. One of his Vegas shows featured a skit that burlesqued his own cuckolding by Liz until she threatened to sue. She remained bitter towards him for the rest of his life and refused to discuss him.
Fisher married Connie Stevens in 1967 but they were divorced after two years later after having two children. The only real publicity he received in the last 40 years of his life were from two autobiographies he wrote, the last of which Been There, Done That was an unsavory tome that detailed his sex life with his former wives.
Long estranged from his daughter Carrie Fisher, father and daughter finally reconciled in 2006. Before the reconciliation, Fisher — who also is a writer of some note — had made many nasty comments about her father, whom she very rarely saw.
New York Times, Eddie Fisher, Pop Singer, Dies at 82