One of the last remaining Classic Hollywood stars has passed away yesterday, May 13th. Doris Day was 97 and lead a rich life as a Classic Hollywood icon and devoted animal rights activist. The actress and singer passed away at her home in Carmel, California from pneumonia. The Doris Day Animal Foundation said she was surrounded by close friends at the time of her death. The news comes only one month after she celebrated her 97th birthday and shared a recent picture with the media. Although Doris kept a low profile during the final years of her life, she was never forgotten by the public.
Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, Doris was known for a string of successful musicals and romantic comedies, including Pillow Talk, as well as a singing career that encompassed 29 studio albums and the worldwide classic Que Sera, Sera.
Doris first gained fame with a recording of Sentimental Journey on 1945 as a vocalist for Les Brown and His Band of Renown. The song became a popular second world war anthem and by 1946 she was the highest paid female singer in the world. Her film career started with a role in the 1948 musical comedy Romance on the High Seas. Doris was a hit with audiences, specialising in musical comedy roles, including Tea for Two and I’ll See You in My Dreams. In 1953, she took on the title role of the hit film Calamity Jane, a major hit which later turned into both a stage musical and a TV show. After this string of hits, she branched out to more diverse roles, like 1954’s Love Me or Leave Me and 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. The films were great hits and showed Doris’ range. It also gave her an Oscar for Best Song for Que Sera, Sera.
In 1959 she was paired for the first time with Rock Hudson in the (for its time) racy romantic comedy Pillow Talk, which resulted in her one and only Best Actress Oscar nomination and also her greatest box-office success. Two more vehicles with Hudson (and sidekick Tony Randall) followed. As the ’60s wound down, Doris turned to TV, having been forced there by a contract signed by late husband and manager Melcher without her knowledge. CBS’s 1968-73 The Doris Day Show never rose above the level of being a poor man’s Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Day herself was highly critical of it. Nonetheless, it paid for her legal bills after Melcher had left her with debt.
The show ran for five years; after the final season in 1973, she largely retired and put her efforts into animal welfare activism. She started Doris Day Animal Foundation, a non-profit which aimed at helping animals across the US. An ex-Catholic turned Christian Scientist who neither drank nor smoked and was a vegetarian, Day kept busy overseeing two animal welfare groups and generally only made public appearances if it benefited her adored creatures.
Her personal life was rocky, Doris first wed in 1941 at age 17 to trombone player Al Jorden He fathered her son and only child, music producer Terry Melcher, who died in 2004 from cancer. In 1946 she married saxophonist George Weidler, who resented her growing fame as a singer. Marty Melcher, who adopted Terry, became her third husband and manager in 1951. When he died in 1968, it was discovered that he had squandered about $20 million of her money. She worked her way out of debt and later sued a financial adviser to get the money back. Her last marriage was a brief one to restaurateur Barry Comden that ended in 1982.
For Doris, as she told PEOPLE in 2011, her greatest loss in life was the 2004 death from melanoma of her son, music producer Terry Melcher. “I had him when I was , so we were like sister and brother,” said Day, who found his passing “really hard. But I keep him with me.” The profile also pointed out that humor had always been Doris’ secret weapon. “I love to laugh,” said the star who made so many others laugh and sing. “It’s the only way to live. Enjoy each day — it’s not coming back again!”