Cindy Williams, an actress best known for playing Shirley on the Happy Days spin-off Laverne & Shirley, is dead at 75. She died on Wednesday, January 25, due to a brief, yet-unnamed illness, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed,” Williams’s children, Zak and Emily Hudson, said in a statement, according to the Times. “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.”
After growing up in Los Angeles and Texas, Williams began her acting career in earnest in the early ’70s with roles in era-defining classic films, including Travels with My Aunt, American Graffiti, and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. In 1975, she was cast in a small role in Happy Days alongside Penny Marshall. The two played roommates Laverne and Shirley, who had very different dispositions: Marshall’s Laverne was wry, while Williams’s Shirley was sunny, but their combined chemistry led to an immediate spin-off. Initially, Williams was reluctant to join the show, according to a later Television Academy interview with executive Michael Eisner, and she was almost replaced by Liberty Williams (no relation). But she came around and starred in the sitcom from 1976–82. By its third season, the show was the No. 1 rated show on television, and Williams was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Series Musical or Comedy in 1978.
She left the show in its eighth, and ultimately final, season due to her pregnancy with her first child. By the end of the series, Williams and Marshall had not gotten along for sometime, but they later reconciled, according to Marshall’s book. Williams later guest starred on multiple sitcoms, including Girlfriends and 8 Simple Rules, and wrote a memoir, Shirley, I Jest! A Storied Life.