Cindy Williams, who played Shirley opposite Penny Marshall's Laverne on the popular TV sitcom Laverne & Shirley, has died, her family said Monday. Williams died in Los Angeles at age 75 on Wednesday after a brief illness, her children, Zak and Emily Hudson, said in a statement, the AP reports. "The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed," they said. "Knowing and loving her has been our joy and privilege." Williams also starred in director George Lucas' 1973 film American Graffiti and director Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation from 1974.
But she was by far best known for Laverne & Shirley, the Happy Days spinoff that ran on ABC from 1976 to 1983 was, in its prime, among the most popular shows on TV. Williams played the straitlaced Shirley to Marshall's more libertine Laverne on the show about a pair of roommates working at a Milwaukee bottling factory in the 1950s and '60s. Laverne & Shirley was known for its opening theme, as well. Williams' and Marshall's chant of “schlemiel, schlimazel" as they skipped together became a cultural phenomenon and oft-invoked piece of nostalgia.
Williams had trained at the Actors Studio West with Sally Field and Robert De Niro. She met Marshall through mutual friends, and the two were hired as writers by Francis Coppola's company. After a few months, Marshall's brother Garry asked them to make an appearance on his sitcom Happy Days. That led to their own series, which Garry Marshall co-created. Laverne & Shirley was television's No. 1 show for two seasons in the late 1970s. "When you can find those characters with attitudes who are in sync, they are funny and charming to watch," Williams told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. "You see aspects of yourself in the characters' attitudes." Penny Marshall died in 2018. (Read more obituary stories.)