To be an A-lister in Hollywood, Debbie Reynolds had to have thick skin. “She was a very brave little gal,” her close friend and Witness for the Prosecution actress Ruta Lee, exclusively recalled to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “She never moaned or cried the blues.”
Debbie endured a lot of hardships in her life, like her multiple failed marriages to Eddie Fisher (1955-1959), Harry Karl (1960-1973) and Richard Hamlett (1984-1996). Even though Debbie’s love life caused her a lot of pain, she wanted to believe that she had found her Prince Charming when she first met Eddie. However, the “Oh! My Papa” singer ended up showing her his true colors when he left her for her friend Elizabeth Taylor in 1958.
“It was a big surprise to Debbie,” Ruta, 83, explained. “Even though she was a big star, she was still a young girl.” When Eddie left, he stopped providing for their two kids, Carrie Fisher and Todd Fisher. “He never sent any money, so I found it a little scary,” Ruta said, but Debbie soon found a man who could take care of her and her family. After Eddie left her, she found solace in Harry.
“She wanted a good father to her children because Eddie was not,” Ruta recalled. “So she picked an older man that was like her dad who could take care of them.” Things were looking up for Debbie when she, Harry and her kids moved into a marble-clad estate, but everything soon changed once Harry started to dip into Debbie’s savings to gamble and spend money on prostitutes.
“[Harry] presented initially as someone who would take care of her and she wouldn’t have to learn about money,” Carrie once said. “That was her Achilles’ heel, letting men have the final say.” Harry ended up spending $100 million of his and Debbie’s wealth during their 13-year marriage and once they got divorced in 1973, the actress got stuck with a $3 million bill from Harry’s creditors.
“Any woman would have felt defeated at that point, but that was the Miss Texas in Debbie. She had that tenacity,” Ruta explained. Debbie worked harder than ever to avoid bankruptcy, but after dealing with her third husband, Richard, she couldn’t avoid it any longer. In 1997, she finally declared bankruptcy after she had to pay Richard $270,000 in their divorce to buy out his interest in the Las Vegas casino they’d purchased together.
Ruta explained that Richard was even stealing money from Debbie and lying about it during their marriage. His behavior had gotten so bad that one of Debbie’s employees decided to hand in her letter of resignation. “She told me, ‘I can’t stand the lying that is going on. Her husband is taking money for his personal use and not accounting for it,’” Ruta remembered.
“He really did her wrong,” she confessed. “Her last divorce was especially devastating because she [believed] it was her last chance to find happiness with a man.” After Debbie’s three marriages had ended, she began to lean on her children a lot more. Todd helped his mom recover some of her prized possessions.
“He went with her to [the house] and climbed through a window and took out all of the stuff that was hers,” Ruta said. Debbie later died from a stroke in 2016 at age 84. She never retired. She still continued to work in films, TV and nightclubs until her death.
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