10 Things You Might Not Know About Eddie Fisher
Or, how a nice Jewish boy from South Philly grew up to marry Debbie Reynolds, Liz Taylor and Connie Stevens — and tell ALL about it in his autobiographies.
On this day in 1928, two Russian Jewish immigrants, Gitte and Joseph Tisch, welcomed the fourth of their seven children into the world here in Philadelphia. Edwin Jack Fisher would become the most successful pop singer of the first half of the 20th century, but that paled beside his talent for marrying well, if not happily. “I came from the streets of Philadelphia to the White House — Harry Truman loved me, Ike loved me, Jack Kennedy and I shared drugs and women,” he once said. Here, a few more things you might not know about him.
- Fisher’s parents worked in tailoring sweatshops when he was a child. Fisher went to George C. Thomas Junior High — fellow alums there include Fabian and and James Darren — before attending Simon Gratz and South Philly high schools. He never graduated from either; his singing career began early when he started winning talent shows. His family called him “Sonny Boy,” after the Al Jolson song of that name.
- Fisher sang in the choir at his local synagogue, and by the time he was 18 he was performing with Buddy Morrow and Charlie Ventura. But he was “discovered” by Eddie Cantor (who wrote the Warner Bros. cartoon theme) while singing at Grossinger’s hotel in the Catskills in 1949. Cantor invited the young singer onto his radio show, and Fisher soon had his first hit, “Thinking of You.”
- Fisher joined the Army in 1951 and sang for the troops in Korea as the official vocal soloist of the United States Army Band. He continued to record while in the military and made guest TV appearances in uniform as “PFC Eddie Fisher.” When his service concluded, he sang in nightclubs and had his own TV show, Coke Time with Eddie Fisher, from 1953 to 1957. He married squeaky-clean singer and actress Debbie Reynolds (a.k.a. “America’s Sweetheart”) in 1955; in 1952, at age 19, she’d made a splash on Broadway as Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain, with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Fisher and Reynolds soon had two children, daughter Carrie Fisher (a.k.a. Princess Leia) and son Todd Fisher.
- Fisher claimed to have been intimate with Marlene Dietrich, who was 27 years older than he was, in her mirrored bathroom, as well as to have had affairs with Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Juliet Prowse, Kim Novak, Ann-Margret and Judy Garland (among others). But his marriage didn’t unravel until Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband, film director Mike Todd — Fisher’s best friend — died in a plane crash in 1958. Fisher left the house to console Todd’s grieving widow and reportedly never came home again. He starred with Reynolds in the movie Bundle of Joy in 1956 and with Taylor in Butterfield 8 in 1960. The breakup of Fisher’s marriage and his remarriage to Taylor was a huge scandal at the time.
- Also in 1960, Taylor met Richard Burton while working on the monstrously over-budget film Cleopatra and began an affair with him. Taylor said that when Fisher learned of the liaison, he held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her, then relented, saying she was too beautiful to die. Fisher and Taylor divorced in 1964.
- In 1967, Fisher married singer/actress Connie Stevens, who’d played Cricket Blake in the TV series Hawaiian Eye, opposite Robert Conrad, in the early ’60s. (She’d previously been married to actor James Stacy, whose life is a melodrama all its own.) Fisher and Stevens had two kids, actresses Joely Fisher and Tricia Leigh Fisher, before divorcing in 1969.
- Fisher married twice more. For 10 months in 1975, he was wed to 21-year-old former Miss Louisiana Terry Richard. And in 1993, he married a Chinese-born businesswoman, Betty Lin, who died of lung cancer in 2001.
- Fisher’s number one hits included “Wish You Were Here” (1952); “I’m Walking Behind You” (1953); “Oh, My Pa-Pa” (1953); and “I Need You Now” (1954). He also made the first recording of “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, in 1965. He wrote two autobiographies, both of which talked more about his love life than his career. When the second, the highly explicit Been There, Done That, was published in 1999, his daughter Carrie declared, “That’s it. I’m having my DNA fumigated.”
- Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor, who’d been friends as 17-year-olds at the MGM studio school, eventually reconciled and starred together in a TV movie written by Carrie Fisher, These Old Broads, in which their characters mock a shared ex-husband named “Freddie.” Carrie Fisher’s daughter by talent agent Bryan Lourd, Billie Lourd, stars in the Fox TV series Scream Queens and appeared in the Star Wars sequel The Force Awakens — though not, as rumor at one time had it, as a young Princess Leia.
- In his books, Fisher admitted to a 40-year problem with methamphetamine, cocaine, prescription drugs and alcohol, and blamed it for the decline of his career. He suffered from health problems later in life and seldom appeared in public. He died in 2010, at age 82, following surgery for a broken hip, and is buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for recording and one for television.