Cindy Williams, 'Laverne and Shirley' Star, Dead at 75

Cindy Williams, who starred opposite the late Penny Marshall in Laverne & Shirley, has died. She was 75. Williams' family said she died on Jan. 25 following a brief illness.

"The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed," Williams' children, Zak and Emily Hudson, said in a statement to the Associated Press, through family spokeswoman Liza Cranis. "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 born in Los Angeles on Aug. 22, 1947, and studied theater at Los Angeles City College. Early in her career, she picked up roles on television in Room 222, My World and Welcome to It, Barefoot in the Park, the movie Travels with My Aunt, and Jack Nicholson's Drive, He Said. In 1973, she won critical acclaim for her role as Ron Howard's frustrated high school girlfriend in George Lucas' American Graffiti. The following year, she starred in Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation.

Williams was best known for her Golden Globe-nominated role as Shirley Feeney on Laverne & Shirley alongside Marshall's Laverne DeFazio. After the two characters were introduced on Happy Days, their spin-off debuted on ABC in January 1976. The show was a huge hit, lasting eight seasons. It ended in May 1983. The series was co-created by Marshall's brother, the late Garry Marshall, who died in 2016. Marshall died in December 2018 at 75. In 1982, Williams sued Paramount for $20 million to be paid for episodes she would miss filming during her pregnancy. The two sides settled, and Shirley was written out of the show for the last 20 episodes, notes The Hollywood Reporter.

After she left Laverne & Shirley, Williams starred in dozens of television films and reunited with Marshall for frequent specials. In 2004, she played against type when she appeared in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Sick." Her final television role came in 2016 when she guest starred in an episode of CBS' The Odd Couple reboot.

In a TVParty interview, Williams noted that Laverne & Shirley left her typecast as a comedic actress. However, she still felt blessed to play such an iconic role.

"I'd like to have played more middle-of-the-road parts, but I didn't have a chance because no one was going to cast me after Laverne & Shirley," she recalled. 'I remember going up for this big part, and I went in, and the producer said, "I'd love to cast you, but I can't. You're just too recognizable as Shirley Feeney.' And it's the truth, and I understand that. Look, it's a blessing that I got to play that character and it became so popular with people, so I never regret that." Williams went on to add that fans "still come up to me and say, 'You got me through a very bad time in my life, and made me laugh at a really bad time.' I love people, and wanted to comfort them."