Doris Day, Screen Legend And Animal Rights Activist, Dead At 97

She starred in over 39 films, including "Pillow Talk," throughout the '40s, '50s and '60s.

Doris Day has died at age 97, her foundation said Monday.

The legendary actress died at her Carmel Valley, California, home surrounded by close friends. Day “had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia,” the foundation said in a statement to The Associated Press. 

Day’s career placed her among America’s sweethearts throughout the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Though she withdrew from public life in her later years, Day continued to be an indelible part of pop-culture history.

The daughter of a music teacher and homemaker, Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff was born April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati. She changed her name to Day when she began singing on the radio as a teen. Day had a son, Terry, with musician Al Jorden in 1942. Terry, who died in 2004, was later adopted by Day’s third husband, Martin Melcher. (Melcher died in April of 1968.)

“All I ever wanted in my life was to get married, have kids, keep house and cook,” Day told Closer magazine in 2014, “and even though I did all these things, I still ended up in Hollywood.”

Day began her career performing with the big bands Barney Rapp and Bob Crosby. Her first big hit came when she joined Les Brown’s band and recorded “Sentimental Journey” in 1945 at age 23.

Day used her success with big bands to propel herself into an acting career (at which time, as Vanity Fair noted in a 2008 profile of the star, she subtracted two years from her age).

“I kept forgetting that I wasn’t two years older for years,” Day said in a 2012 interview with NPR. “As the years go on, and my mother said to me, ‘You know what, it just occurred to me. You’re not really 30. You’re 28.’ And I looked at her and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I forgot all about that.’”

With over 39 films to her name, Day was repeatedly one of the few women ranked among the biggest box-office draws across the early ’60s. Arguably the pinnacle of Day’s career was starring in “Pillow Talk,” alongside Rock Hudson, in 1959.

Day’s tremendous celebrity was often attributed to her affable personality, which seemed impossible to cloak in the nuances of the roles she played. She thought about taking acting lessons after her first film, but her director, Michael Curtiz, advised against it. “You have a very strong personality,” Curtiz told Day, per Vanity Fair. “No matter what you do onscreen, no matter what kind of part you play, it will always be you. What I mean is, Doris Day will always shine through the part. This will make you a big, important star.”

Day also continued on to a solo music career, scoring her first hit with “It’s Magic,” shortly followed by her first No. 1 with “Love Somebody,” both in 1948. She went on to release 31 albums over the course of her career. In 2008, Day received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

After wrapping the Golden Globe-nominated “The Doris Day Show” in 1973, Day removed herself from the spotlight for the first time since the 1940s. Outside of the release of “My Heart” in 2011, Day was largely reclusive, giving a few interviews pegged to her album but making no public appearances for nearly 20 years.

Day resurfaced at her 90th birthday party in April of 2014. In lieu of gifts, she requested that friends, family and fans make donations to the Doris Day Animal Foundation, which she founded (then as the Doris Day Pet Foundation) in 1978.

By all accounts, Day blissfully embraced her final years: “I love life,” she told People in a 2011. “I have my pets around me and good friends. I’m young at heart and I love to laugh. There’s nothing better.”

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