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Friday 24 February 2017

Eddie Fisher

Idol of the Fifties' bobby-soxers whose career collapsed after he left Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor

Eddie Fisher, who died on Wednesday aged 82, was best known as the bobby-sox idol of the 1950s and as the man who divorced the actress Debbie Reynolds to marry Elizabeth Taylor, only to lose her three years later to Richard Burton.

Unusually, for a performer who made his reputation singing sentimental ballads such as April Showers and Oh My Papa to adoring adolescent girls, Fisher was a peripheral member of the group of self-styled enfants terribles known as The Rat Pack.

A persistent gambler, he incurred the wrath of Debbie Reynolds when he left their honeymoon suite to join a poker game with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Peter Lawford. In later life, after being told by his doctors that he had only months to live, he entered the Betty Ford Clinic, and was able to claim in 1990 that he had beaten a long-term addiction to cocaine.

Edwin Jack Fisher was born on August 10, 1928, in Philadelphia, one of seven children of a Jewish grocer.

He began singing in the local synagogue and, aged seven, entered and won an amateur talent contest. By the time he started high school he was singing on the local radio station. In 1944, after leaving school, Eddie began appearing with bands, including those led by Buddy Morrow and Charlie Ventura. The following year, while appearing at the Grossinger hotel in New York, he was spotted by Eddie Cantor, who offered him a place on his nationwide tour.

Fisher made his solo debut when the star of the show fell ill, proving an immediate success at the Riviera Club in New Jersey. He was booked to appear at the Paramount Theatre in New York.

In 1951, he joined the US Army, singing on forces radio and appearing in recruitment films for both the army and the US Air Force. At the same time he was allowed to make records, and was responsible for 10 hits during his two years' military service.

Among his many hits were Thinking of You; Any Time; I'm Yours; Lady of Spain; and Count Your Blessings.

At the height of his success, however, Fisher started taking what he euphemistically described as "vitamin cocktails", prescribed by the then notorious Dr Jacobson, known as "Dr Needles".

Fisher became addicted to twice-daily injections of methamphetamines. "I had lost my voice," he later recalled. "I was at the Paramount, doing five shows a day, seven days a week and suddenly my voice was gone. The doctor gave me an injection and I felt terrific." Before long, however, he could not get out of bed without his early morning "meth".

Fisher and Debbie Reynolds married in 1955. "Debbie was on the rebound from Robert Wagner, and she and I were really pushed into matrimony by the publicity hype of that era," Fisher said.

"Nobody could believe it when I said our marriage was heading for the rocks."

The Fishers spent most of their free time with their close friends Elizabeth Taylor and her husband Michael Todd, and after Todd was killed in an air crash, Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor became close.

"You could say he consoled her to the point of matrimony," Debbie Reynolds recalled.

"I guess you felt Liz should always have a husband, even if it was yours."

Fisher married Taylor in 1959, on the day his divorce from Reynolds came through.

Fisher was deluged with hate mail: "It was as if by leaving Debbie I had broken up America's perfect couple."

He lost his TV show; his fan club closed down; and his nightclub bookings fell away.

Fisher described Elizabeth Taylor as "the one great love of my life", but claimed that she treated him like "a slave" and that he spent most of his time attending to her various illnesses and ailments.

Meanwhile, he was neglecting his career. "I didn't really notice how bad things had got," he said, "until people started calling me 'Mr Taylor'." Then, in 1962, Elizabeth Taylor went to Rome to begin filming Cleopatra.

Fisher later claimed that he recommended Rex Harrison for the part of Caesar and Richard Burton for Anthony: "I could have kicked myself afterwards. When I suggested [Burton] to her, Liz had never heard of [him]."

Burton and Taylor began their famous affair, which led to her divorce from Fisher in 1963. He took consolation in his drug habit and tried to restart his singing career. "I don't remember those days really well," he said. "I was taking meth and drinking straight vodka all day. Life became a little blurred."

In 1967, he married the actress and singer Connie Stevens, which lasted barely two years; friends claimed Fisher married her only because she looked like Debbie Reynolds. Stevens was the only one of Fisher's wives who he remained friendly with.

Fisher was never to regain the popularity he had enjoyed in the 1950s, although he continued to perform and appear in television shows. During the Seventies he reprised the songs that had brought him fame, touring venues such as Las Vegas and Palm Springs.

He was throwing away money on drugs and gambling; he ran up debts and often missed or cancelled engagements. In 1972 he was booked for a 17-week series of concerts at Caesar's Palace, but was sacked after repeatedly arriving unable to perform.

Later he was declared bankrupt with debts of more than $50,000.

In the late 1970s, Fisher had a facelift and got to work on an autobiography, My Life, My Loves, which was published in 1981.

He included accounts of his encounters with prostitutes and of an abortive plan to shoot Richard Burton with a borrowed gun. "I never thought seriously of using it," he said. "Shoot Burton? Why? Who could take that scruffy buffoon seriously?"

Despite the intimate detail, Fisher denied his autobiography was a "kiss and tell" book: "I didn't tell all.

"When it was finished I had 6,000 bitter manuscript pages, but we had to cut it to just 300 for publication."

However, his account of his life with Elizabeth Taylor was seriously inhibited by the terms of their divorce settlement. This prevented him from publishing details of their marriage.

In April 1989, Fisher was invited to sing at a concert in aid of a charity called Snow Babies, which helped infants born suffering from their mothers' cocaine addiction.

"While I sang I was as high as a kite," he recalled, "then I broke down and cried. I was a hypocrite, it was hell." Heeding the advice of his doctors, he enrolled at the Betty Ford Clinic at Rancho Mirage.

By 1990, he had resumed his singing career with a concert at the Plaza Theatre in Palm Springs. He also made numerous appearances on television chat shows in which he talked about his addictions.

He published a second volume of memoirs, Been There, Done That, in 1999, in which he was unspeakably rude about Debbie Reynolds.

Eddie Fisher's fourth marriage, to a 21-year-old beauty queen, Terry Richard, ended after 10 months. His fifth marriage was to a Chinese-born businesswoman, Betty Lin, who died in 2001. With Debbie Reynolds, he had a son and a daughter (the actress and writer Carrie Fisher); and with Connie Stevens he had two daughters. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Sunday Independent

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