Doris Day, celebrated actor and singer, dies aged 97

The star of a string of successful film musicals was also known for her work as an animal welfare activist

Doris Day, the actor, singer and animal welfare activist, has died at the age of 97. The Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed the news.

Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, Day was known for a string of successful musicals and romantic comedies, including Pillow Talk, as well as a singing career that encompassed 29 studio albums.

Descended from German immigrants to the US, Day first gained fame with a recording of Sentimental Journey on 1945 as a vocalist for Les Brown and His Band of Renown; the song became a popular second world war anthem, and by 1946 she was the highest paid female singer in the world.

Her film career started with a role in the 1948 musical comedy Romance on the High Seas, which she secured after Betty Hutton dropped out due to pregnancy. Day proved a hit with audiences, specialising in musical comedy roles, including My Dream is Yours, Tea for Two and I’ll See You in My Dreams. In 1953, she took on the title role of the hit film Calamity Jane, a major hit which later turned into both a stage musical and a TV show.

Major role ... Day in Calamity Jane
Major role ... Day in Calamity Jane. Photograph: Everett/Rex/Shutterstock

Day engineered a career change shortly afterwards, declining to renew her contract with Warner Bros with the intention of branching out. Her breakthrough role came opposite James Cagney in the musical Love Me or Leave Me, in which she played real-life singer Ruth Etting. Day herself believed it to be her best performance.

Day followed it up with roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and the poorly received thriller Julie. The disappointing results of the latter film prompted her to return to comedy, and she secured an Oscar nomination for her role alongside Rock Hudson in 1959 romantic comedy Pillow Talk. This inaugurated a successful period at the box office for Day, which included That Touch of Mink with Cary Grant, The Thrill of It All opposite James Garner, and Move Over, Darling, which had originally been conceived as Something’s Got to Give, a comeback vehicle for Marilyn Monroe.

Big box office ... Day with James Garner in Move Over, Darling
Big box office ... Day with James Garner in Move Over, Darling. Photograph: Allstar/20th Century Fox/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

However, Day’s perky style did not survive America’s mid-60s social upheaval, and her popularity swiftly declined in the counterculture era. Day’s film career tailed off with her last film, With Six You Get Eggroll, in 1968; she then moved to the small screen with The Doris Day Show, albeit with reluctance after she discovered she owed large debts after her husband Marty Melcher died in 1968. The show ran for five years; after the final season in 1973, she largely retired and put her efforts into animal welfare activism. She started Doris Day Animal Foundation, a non-profit which aimed at helping animals across the US.

Day was married four times, to musicians Al Jorden (1941-43) and George Weidler (1946-49), agent and producer Melcher (1951-68) and restaurateur Barry Comden (1976-81). With her first husband she had her only child, record producer Terry Melcher, who died in 2004. Day received the the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.

Tributes for the actor have poured in from Hollywood with Goldie Hawn tweeting that Day will has taken “a piece of the sun with her” and Tony Bennett writing that he is “saddened” by the death of “a wonderful friend”.

“One of my all time favourite stars has joined the heavenly choir,” tweeted Elaine Paige. Rest in Peace the great & inimitable Doris Day. The last star of the Hollywood Golden Age. We’ll bid you farewell by the Light of The Silvery Moon, but you will always be Young at Heart to us forever.”

On Instagram, Sarah Jessica Parker shared a tribute, writing “I love you. Millions did and do. Godspeed” while William Shatner tweeted that she was “the World’s Sweetheart and beloved by all”.

“So sad to hear of Doris Day passing away,” Paul McCartney wrote on his personal blog. “She was a true star in more ways than one. I had the privilege of hanging out with her on a few occasions. Visiting her in her Californian home was like going to an animal sanctuary where her many dogs were taken care of in splendid style. She had a heart of gold and was a very funny lady who I shared many laughs with.”


Benjamin Lee

The GuardianTramp

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