As reported by the Associated Press and confirmed by a post on her official website, Cindy Williams—who played Shirley on classic sitcom Laverne & Shirley opposite Penny Marshall—has died. She reportedly passed away on Wednesday at her home following a “brief illness.” In a statement, her children said that their mother’s death has brought them an “insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed,” adding, “knowing and loving her has been our joy and privilege. She was one of a kind, beautiful, generous, and possessed a brilliant sense of humor and a glittering spirit that everyone loved.” Williams was 75.
Williams was involved in acting as a child, in church and high school productions, before becoming a theater major when she attended Los Angeles City College. She started acting professionally after college in the ‘70s, appearing in Barefoot In The Park, Room 222, and Love, American Style. She earned a BAFTA nomination for her role in George Lucas’ American Graffiti, playing the girlfriend of Ron Howard’s character.
She worked with Penny Marshall, her future sitcom co-star, at Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope (which produced American Graffiti) as a writer. That’s what they were reportedly doing when they got a call from Marshall’s brother, Garry Marshall, who wanted them both to appear on an episode of a show he was producing called Happy Days. Their appearance, as prospective dates for Richie and Fonzie who worked at a brewery in Milwaukee, was so popular with viewers that Garry Marshall put together a pitch for a spin-off.
Laverne & Shirley premiered in 1976 and starred Williams as the more reserved Shirley against Marshall’s free-spirited Laverne. It was the most-watched show on TV in its third season, and it ran until 1982. Williams left early on in what would become its final season, choosing to leave so she could give birth to her first child (something the producers reportedly fought her on, weirdly).
After Laverne & Shirley, Williams continued regularly working in television. She appeared on Getting By, Bingo, Meet Wally Sparks, 7th Heaven, 8 Simple Rules, Girlfriends, and Nickelodeon’s Sam & Cat (where she reunited with Penny Marshall, who died in 2018, playing the creators of a sitcom from the ‘70s).
Williams is survived by her two children.