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Doris Day, Hollywood Actress & Singer, Dies Aged 97

Nancy Bilyeau

Doris Day, one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars since the early 1960s, has died at the age of 97. The Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed that Day died early Monday, May 13th, at her home in Carmel Valley, California.

Day, a wholesome blonde with a powerful contralto singing voice, represented a time of innocence in 1960s films.

She never won an Academy Award, but Day was given a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, as George W. Bush said it was  “a good day for America when Doris Marianne von Kappelhoff of Evanston, Ohio decided to become an entertainer.”

Doris Day, 1945.
Doris Day, 1945.

“Day had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia, resulting in her death,” the foundation said in a statement emailed to the Associated Press.

Day’s birthday was just over a month ago. News was released that the actress and singer planned to enjoy her favorite dessert: Edy’s slow-churned chocolate fudge ice cream.

“Doris will be spending a quiet birthday at home again this year surrounded by a few close friends,” her business manager Bob Bashara told People magazine. “She always gets lots of phone calls wishing her happy birthday. And, in the evening, she’ll enjoy a special birthday dinner followed by cake and ice cream.”

Doris Day
Doris Day

Doris Day was born Doris Marianne Kappelhoff in Cincinnati on April 3, 1922, the daughter of a music teacher and a housewife.

While recuperating from a broken leg, she spent a lot of time listening to the songs of Ella Fitzgerald, “trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words,” according to the Associated Press.

Portrait of Doris Day, Aquarium, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1946.
Portrait of Doris Day, Aquarium, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1946.

After singing for radio stations and a local nightclub, she changed her name to Day at the suggestion of a bandleader, who was reportedly inspired by the song “Day After Day.”

Will Friedwald, who wrote a book on jazz singing, said “Day’s success with pop and novelty songs overshadowed a simple fact: She was a phenomenal singer, both technically and artistically,” according to NPR.

“She really is sort of the mother of all tuneful, sunny blondes,” Friedwald said, “but at the same time there’s definitely a dark side to her. You know, she can explore that kind of emotion very effectively in song.”

Photo of Doris Day on the set of her television program The Doris Day Show.
Photo of Doris Day on the set of her television program The Doris Day Show.

In films, she starred in such films as Calamity Jane and Pillow Talk, co-starring Rock Hudson. Thanks to films she made with Hudson in particular, she was one of the biggest box-office draws of the 1960s.

Day’s third husband was Martin Melcher, her manager. She discovered after Melcher’s death in 1968 that he and his lawyer had embezzled or simply lost some $20 million she earned and had left her $500,000 in debt, according to the New York Times.

Day stared in a situation comedy on television to earn enough money to pay off her debts.  “The Doris Day Show” was extremely successful. However, she married again and the fourth marriage ended in divorce.

In the 1980s she moved from Los Angeles to Carmel, a town along the California coast where she and her son, music producer Terry Melcher, became part owners of the pet-friendly Cypress Inn. (Melcher died in 2004.) In the mid-1980s she was the host of “Doris Day’s Best Friends,” on the Christian Broadcasting Network, which focused on animal welfare.

Day told one interviewer, “During the painful and bleak periods I’ve suffered through these past years, my animal family has been a source of joy and strength to me.

I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent, devoted companionship of your pets that you can get from no other source.”

“I have never found in a human being,” Doris Day added, “loyalty comparable to that of any pet.”