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‘Laverne & Shirley’ star Cindy Williams dead at 75

Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams are pictured here in a 1979 episode of
ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images
Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams are pictured here in a 1979 episode of "Laverne & Shirley."

By Alli Rosenbloom and Dan Heching, CNN

    (CNN) -- Cindy Williams, the dynamic actress known best for playing the bubbly Shirley Feeney on the beloved sitcom "Laverne & Shirley," has died, according to a statement from her family, provided to CNN by a representative. She was 75.

Williams died after a short illness, said the statement from her children Zak and Emily Hudson, provided to CNN by family spokesperson and Williams' personal assistant Liz Cranis.

"The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed," their statement read. "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 had credits spanning six decades, but it was her role on "Happy Days" spin-off "Laverne & Shirley" that endeared her to millions and made her a household name.

On the series, she starred opposite the late Penny Marshall as one half of a dynamic friend duo whose adventures powered the show, which ran for eight seasons from 1976-1983.

Work and acclaim

Born in Van Nuys, California, Williams' interest in acting throughout high school led her to studying theater at Los Angeles City College, according to a biography provided by her family. Some of Williams' first professional acting credits include a three-episode arc on the 1969 series "Room 222" and appearances on other shows, like "Nanny and the Professor" and "Love, American Style," in the early 1970's.

Williams went on to become a prolific working television and film actor, appearing in dozens of titles. But it was after she first appeared as Shirley Feeney on "Happy Days" in 1975 that her career began to take shape.

The lighthearted "Laverne & Shirley" proved to be a ratings hit and earned six Golden Globe nominations, including two for best comedy series and one for Williams in the best actress in a comedy category.

Williams also appeared in several standout films. Most notably, she starred in George Lucas' 1973 film "American Graffiti," which earned Williams a British Academy Film Awards nomination for best supporting actress. The film, about a group of friends who spend one wild night together before leaving for college, went on to be nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, at the 1974 Academy Awards. Williams also had roles in acclaimed films "Travels with My Aunt" by George Cukor' in 1972 and "The Conversation" from director Francis Ford Coppola in 1974.

Williams was also an accomplished stage actress, with a long list of credits. Last year, she took her one-woman show, "Me, Myself and Shirley," where she shared stories from throughout her career, on a national tour. She had at least one series of dates scheduled for later this year.

Heartfelt tributes

Upon news of her passing, Williams' friends and fans took to social media to honor the late actress, who left a legacy of laughter.

"Happy Days" star and film director Ron Howard tweeted that Williams' "unpretentious intelligence, talent, wit & humanity impacted every character she created & person she worked with," going on to say that the pair worked together on six different projects together. "Lucky me," he added.

Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie on "Happy Days," called Williams "a fine and talented human being" on Twitter.

"Oh how I loved Cindy Williams," Yvette Nicole Brown, who worked with Williams in 2016 when she guest starred in an episode of CBS's "The Odd Couple," shared on Twitter. "She was as lovely as I always imagined she'd be."

Actor Jason Alexander wrote on Twitter: "I did not know Cindy Williams but boy did I adore her work, especially the wacky joyful funny pleasure of watching her Laverne and Shirley days. I pray she had a good life and send my sympathy to those who knew and loved her."

Williams' children added in their statement that they were proud of their mother for many reasons -- "her lifelong mission to rescue animals, her prolific artistry, her faith" among them -- but "most of all, her ability to make the world laugh!"

"May that laughter continue in everyone, because she would want that," the statement said. "Thank you for loving our Mom, she loved you too."

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