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Doris Day, Iconic Actress, Dead at 97

Doris Day, one of America's most prolific actresses, has died, her foundation said. She was 97.

The Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed in an emailed statement to the Associated Press that Day died early Monday at her Carmel Valley, California home. The foundation said that she was surrounded by close friends and "had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia."

Day was known for her wholesome screen presence and smooth-as-honey voice, and appeared in films like Pillow Talk (1959), Love Me or Leave Me (1955), Lover Come Back (1961) and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). As a recording artist, she was known for such songs as "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" from the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much.

doris-day_getty-Silver Screen Collection : Contributor
(Photo: Silver Screen Collection / Contributor, Getty)

In her 1976 tell-all book, Doris Day: Her Own Story, she chronicled financial troubles as well as three failed marriages, which directly contrasted her squeaky clean image.

“I have the unfortunate reputation of being Miss Goody Two-Shoes, America’s Virgin, and all that, so I’m afraid it’s going to shock some people for me to say this, but I staunchly believe no two people should get married until they have lived together,” she wrote, according to the AP.

Although she never won an Academy Award, she was given a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 from George W. Bush, who declared it "a good day for America when Doris Marianne von Kappelhoff of Evanston, Ohio, decided to become an entertainer."

Although mostly retired from show business since the 1980s, Day spent much of her time advocating for animal rights. In 2011, a collection of her previously unreleased songs, My Heart, hit the top 10 in the United Kingdom. She received a lifetime achievement honor that same year from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1922, Day's mother, a housewife, and her father, a music teacher and choir master, divorced while she was still a child. Day enjoyed dancing and at age 12 won $500 in a local talent contest in a dance act she formed with a boy, Jerry Doherty. The two briefly moved to Hollywood to test the waters, and upon feeling like they could succeed, returned to Cincinnati with the intention of moving for good to Hollywood. The night before she was set to make the move, she was injured riding in a car that was hit by a train — ending her premature dancing career.

After taking singing lessons, she began touring with the Les Brown Band at age 17. She met trombonist Al Jorden and married him in 1941, though they divorced after two years following the birth of their son, Terry.

Day married George Weidler in 1946, but their marriage lasted less than a year.

Her career in Hollywood began after she sang at a Hollywood party in 1947. She found early fame as a band singer and a stint at Warner Bros. until the commercial and critical success of Love Me or Leave Me.

She followed that with The Man Who Knew Too Much opposite James Stewart. Then, in 1958, she starred in Teacher's Pet opposite an aging Clark Gable as an idealistic college journalism teacher and her student, an old-school newspaper editor.

Her slick, stylish sex comedies, like the Oscar-nominated Pillow Talk, and The Thrill of It All, earned her the most money and fame.

Her first musical hit was the 1945 song "Sentimental Journey," when she was barely in her 20s. Other hits from Day were "Everybody Loves a Lover," "Secret Love," and "It's Magic," a song from her first film, Romance on the High Seas.

Her last film was With Six You Get Eggroll, a 1968 comedy about a widow and widower and the problems they had blending their families.

When films turned more sexually explicit, she turned her attention to television, where The Doris Day Show saw moderate success from 1966-1973 on CBS.

In the 1960s, she discovered that failed investments by her third husband, Martin Melcher, left her deeply in debt. She eventually won a multimillion-dollar judgment against their lawyer.

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Day married Melcher in 1951. He became her manager and her son took his last name. Melcher died in 1969. Day's son, Terry Melcher, became a songwriter and record producer who worked with musicians like the Beach Boys — but he was also famous for a musician he turned down, Charles Manson. When Manson and his followers set out on their murderous rampage in 1969, they headed for a house once owned by Melcher and instead came upon actress Sharon Tate and some visitors, all of whom were killed. Terry Melcher died in 2004.

Day married Barry Corden at age 52 in 1976.