Family & Companions
From 1950 to 1956, singer Eddie Fisher was arguably among the most popular entertainers in America. Blessed with matinee idol looks and a honeyed voice, he enjoyed over 15 Top Ten hits on the music charts, as well as favored-nation status among the public thanks to his marriage to actress Debbie Reynolds. Like Icarus, he plummeted from the uppermost ranks of stardom to persona non grata when he indulged in an affair with Elizabeth Taylor shortly after the death of her husband, producer Mike Todd. The resulting scandal was irrevocably linked to Fisher's career for the remainder of his life; by the time of his death in 2010, obituaries devoted more space to the details of the affair than to his music and acting careers. Fisher remained, even in death, one of the most harrowing cautionary tales about the price of fame in Hollywood.
Born Edwin Jack Fisher on Aug. 10, 1928 in Philadelphia, PA, he was one of seven children born to Russian-Jewish parents. His vocal talent was evident from an early age, leading Fisher to earn a living as a singer at bar mitzvahs while competing in local amateur talent contests. His score of wins earned him his radio debut on the Philadelphia airwaves at the age of 15; soon after, he dropped out of high school to pursue his singing career in earnest. By 1946, he was performing as a vocalist with big bands in the Catskills. His "big break" came in 1949 when his agent staged a discovery by beloved entertainer Eddie Cantor at Grossinger's, one of the most popular of the region's resorts. Cantor provided the younger man with crucial performances on tour and television, and paved the way for Fisher to be signed by RCA Victor Records in 1949. The following year, his first single, "Thinking of You," from the film "Three Little Words" (1950), reached No. 5 on the pop charts. It was the first of a series of major hits for the singer, including "Any Time" (1952), his signature song and first million seller. His golden voice and youthful charm held considerable appeal for audiences, with young women in particular responding with hysteria to his romantic overtures.
Fisher was drafted into the Army in 1951, where he served as the official vocalist for the United States Army Band, with which he performed for servicemen in Korea. After his discharge, his career resumed its stratospheric ascent; he landed his first No. 1 record, "Wish You Were Here," in 1952, which was followed in 1953 by his third chart-topper, "Oh! My Pa-Pa," another signature number. That same year, he signed an unprecedented $1 million deal to become the national spokesperson for Coca-Cola, which gave him his own series, a weekly 15-minute variety show called "Coke Time with Eddie Fisher" (NBC, 1953-57). A second, longer variety program, "The Eddie Fisher Show" (NBC, 1957-59), followed in its wake. By the end of the 1950s, Fisher had scored 17 Top Ten hits and 35 in the Top 40, which was all the more impressive due to the onset of rock and roll, which had succeeded in unseating numerous established pop acts.
In 1956, Fisher married actress Debbie Reynolds, whose star in both movies and recordings was on a similarly vertical path. The public soon embraced the couple as national sweethearts; the arrival of daughter Carrie in 1956 and son Todd in 1958 only solidified their standing as the model nuclear family. In 1956, the pair starred together in "Bundle of Joy" (1956), a harmless comedy about a store clerk (Reynolds) who finds and cares for an abandoned baby that her co-workers assume is hers by the son (Fisher) of the storeowner. Fisher himself loathed the project; he had been forced into it by agent Lew Wasserman, who saw the picture as a means of capitalizing on the arrival of their daughter. Fisher had designs on meatier roles, most notably an adaptation of Budd Schulberg's 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run? Wasserman dissuaded his client from pursuing the film, citing its aggressive lead character as a possible hindrance to his career.
However, it was not a film role, but rather Fisher's own off-stage actions that capsized his meteoric rise. In 1958, his close friend, producer Mike Todd, was killed in a plane crash. Fisher rushed to the side of his widow, actress Elizabeth Taylor, to provide comfort. The two fell into a passionate affair that destroyed Fisher's marriage to Reynolds; the public and very ugly divorce that followed cast a pall over the singer's golden boy persona. Audiences were less willing to return to Fisher after he married Taylor in 1959. "The Eddie Fisher Show" was axed that same year, and his records plummeted to the bottom of the charts. He showed promise as an actor opposite his new bride in "Butterfield 8" (1960), which earned her an Academy Award. But the stigma of the affair and the divorce had a chilling effect on Fisher; the lifeline to Hollywood soon dried up, and RCA Victor dropped his recording contract. Taylor's outrageous affair with actor Richard Burton on the set of "Cleopatra" (1963) seemed like rough justice for the misery that had bloomed in the wake of Fisher's actions. By 1964, he was divorced from Taylor, his music career was in tatters, and his finances were largely gone thanks to a combined addiction to gambling and drugs. A string of failed romances with Ann-Margret, Kim Novak and Marlene Dietrich, among others, simply added to the miasma around Fisher.
A minor hit with "Games That Lovers Play" in 1966 led to an attempted comeback and return to the public eye. A year later, Fisher married actress Connie Stevens, with whom he had two daughters, Joely and Tricia Leigh. Both situations fell apart within a few years, and Fisher was back to relative obscurity. In 1975, the 47-year-old married Terry Richard, who was two decades younger than her groom; the union lasted less than a year. He penned a fairly scathing autobiography, Eddie: My Life, My Loves, in 1981, which alleged that he had been pressured into marrying Reynolds and had acted more as chauffeur and nurse to Taylor during their brief union. The tell-all tome did little to improve his standing in the entertainment business; a 1983 comeback tour was met with universal disdain.
In 1993, Fisher married his fifth wife, Betty Lin, with whom he lived until her death in 2001. He attracted worldwide attention with the publication of Been There, Done That (1999), a recycled version of his 1981 book with material that had been edited out of the original release. Said material was largely unpleasant accounts of his marriages; among the allegations levied were that Reynolds was "phony" and that he had only married Stevens because she was pregnant. Nearly all of the associated parties, including his children, responded with bitter recriminations, with Carrie Fisher saying that she was now seriously considering getting her "DNA fumigated." Taylor and Reynolds, whose friendship had collapsed after their entanglements with Fisher, resumed their relationship, and even poked fun at their former spouse in the ABC TV movie "These Old Broads" (ABC, 2001). Fisher died at the age of 82 on Sept. 22, 2010 following complications after hip surgery, but had reportedly made peace with his four children prior to his death.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Discovered by Eddie Cantor while performing at Grossinger's Resort in the Borscht Belt
Signed with RCA Victor
Feature acting debut, "All About Eve"
Drafted into the U.S. Army and served a year in Korea
Was the official vocal soloist for The United States Army Band (Pershing's Own)
Released debut album, Eddie Fisher Sings
Substitute host for "The Scott Music Hall" (NBC)
Hosted his own variety series, "Coke Time with Eddie Fisher" (NBC)
Co-starred with then-wife Debbie Reynolds in the musical comedy "Bundle of Joy"
Starred in the series, "The Eddie Fisher Show" (NBC)
Offered a serious turn in the drama "Butterfield 8" with second wife Elizabeth Taylor
Dropped by RCA Victor and briefly recorded on his own label, Ramrod Records
Recorded "Sunrise, Sunset" from "Fiddler on the Roof"
Recorded the album Eddie Fisher Today
Returned to RCA Victor and released the hit single "Games That Lovers Play" with Nelson Riddle
Last album for RCA was an Al Jolson tribute, You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet
Published his autobiography, Eddie: My Life, My Loves
Released final album on the Bainbridge record label, After All
Penned a second autobiography, Been There, Done That