Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Eddie Fisher

Eddie Fisher was the golden boychik of mainstream pop, the dimpled troubadour from Philadelphia. Pretty and poised, he had the packaging and the product: a clear, confident tenor that could turn powerful or intimate at will. In the 1950-54 prerock period — the most tepid five years in the history of 20th century music — he had 19 songs reach the Top 10, including four ("Wish You Were Here," "I'm Walking Behind You," "Oh! My Pa-Pa," "I Need You Now") that went to No. 1. He transferred his vinyl popularity to a TV variety show and then to movies. Fisher's covenant with Hollywood mythology was sealed with his 1955 marriage to Debbie Reynolds, Hollywood's princess of pert. It marked the perfect merger of adorable and adorabler.

But that myth ended in 1959, when he divorced Reynolds to marry Elizabeth Taylor, making the former boy next door a war criminal of domesticity for deserting Debbie's dollhouse. In 1962, Taylor left him for her Cleopatra co-star Richard Burton. The one-two punch of infidelity and cuckoldry left an instant, perpetual brand on Fisher's résumé. Meanwhile, pop music post-Elvis Presley was proving inhospitable to his kind of crooning. By the 1980s, his hits long behind him, Fisher was often unable to perform due to his drug addiction. "It was either quit cocaine or quit performing," he wrote in his autobiography. New paragraph. "So much for my career." In 1990 he checked into the Betty Ford Clinic; apparently he was clean for his last 20 years. Fisher married two more times; his fourth wife, Betty Lin, died nine years before he did.

A gift of song, an early success, a gash of notoriety; a host of fractured hearts, only one of them his. Sometimes show-business truth can be more instructive than Tinseltown fable.

Richard Corliss

A version of this story previously appeared on on Sep. 24, 2010.