Doris Day Would Have Been 99 Today: Remembering Her Storied Life and Career in Photos


Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922, the daughter of a Cincinnati music teacher and a homemaker, the crystal-voiced pop soprano changed her name to Day when, as a teen, she began singing on the radio. After appearances with the Big Bands of Barney Rapp and Bob Crosby, she joined Les Brown’s Band and had her first hit with “Sentimental Journey.” Her, she mans the mic in 1939.

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Day was actually a distinguished child dancer in her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, before a tragic car accident cut her career short in 1937 at the age of 15. The actress was driving with friends when a train struck their car twice, shattering her right leg.

The crash left her bedridden for months while she recovered, but it led to her discovering her singing talent as she sang along to the radio — launching a successful career as a recording artist.

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Going solo in 1947, she successfully auditioned for Warner Bros. in 1948 (pictured) and was cast in the studio’s attempts to rival the romantic musicals that were the specialty of MGM.

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Day dated future POTUS Ronald Reagan while they starred in the 1952 film The Winning Team, shortly before she married her third husband, Marty Melcher (she was previously married to Al Jorden and George Weidler).

In her 1975 memoir Doris Day: Her Own Story, Day talked about her love affair with Reagan and what the politician was like before the White House.

The actress remembered Reagan as a skilled dancer who loved to go out, and as a man who believed in anything that he said. Day was so impressed by Reagan’s ability to express himself that she thought he should go on speaking tours.

“He wasn’t actually in politics, of course, but he had what I would call a political personality — engaging, strong and very voluble,” she wrote.

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By the mid-’50s came better roles at other studios. This included what even she considered her best film, 1954’s Love Me or Leave Me, a dramatic, though highly fictionalized, biopic of ’20s singer Ruth Etting, who lived under the thumb of her short-tempered, controlling husband. (Day played down parallels between the movie’s plot and her own life.)

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In 1956, for Alfred Hitchcock, she co-starred with James Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which she introduced the Oscar-winning song that became her signature, “Que Sera Sera.”

“Jimmy was such a great actor,” Day told PEOPLE in 2011. “He was so natural, and he made everything real. That’s the way it should be.”

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Day and Rock Hudson enjoyed an enduring bond that began when they starred in the 1959 classic Pillow Talk and lasted until his death in 1985.

Reminiscing about the first time they met, Day told PEOPLE in 2011 that she “knew almost nothing about him” beforehand. “I remember asking someone ‘Is his name really Rock? That’s odd, don’t you think?’ ” remembered Day.

“But it didn’t take long to get to know him because he was funny. He really has a great sense of humor. And he named me Eunice. He always had to have a name for me. There were many of them, but Eunice he liked best,” she recalled. “We had a marvelous time.”

In addition to bringing the pair together, Pillow Talk was a hit at the box office, and with the critics. For her starring role in the film, Day received her one and only Best Actress Oscar nomination. She and Hudson would go on to appear together in Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers(1964).

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Day at the 1960 Oscars, with her third husband, producer Marty Melcher.

Melcher was also her manager and a producer on many of her movies; after his death in 1968 she discovered he’d mismanaged or embezzled almost $20 million from her.

Day realized she was broke after Melcher and his business partner Jerome Rosenthal had left her with nothing and committed her to several TV appearances. Day was eventually awarded over $22 million for fraud and malpractice.

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“He was very private and reserved,” said Day of That Touch of Mink costar Cary Grant. “We got along great. He was the consummate pro.”

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A comedy queen Day — sometimes as a career woman, but always squeaky clean — costarred in a handful of other films with costars like James Garner and Rod Taylor, here with her in 1965 in Do Not Disturb.

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“She had a heart of gold and was a very funny lady who I shared many laughs with,” friend Paul McCartney wrote in a touching Instagram tribute following Day’s death. “Her films like ‘Calamity Jane’, ‘Move Over, Darling’ and many others were all incredible and her acting and singing always hit the mark.” Here, she’s seen in a still from 1966’s The Glass Bottom Boat.

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As the ’60s wound down, Day turned to TV, having been forced there by a contract signed by late husband Melcher without her knowledge. CBS’s 1968-73 The Doris Day Show never rose above the level of being a poor man’s Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Day herself was highly critical of it.

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Although in 2012 she released a CD of songs she recorded years ago, since the early ’80s, the world’s favorite “girl next door” kept a low profile and lived on 11 acres in Carmel, California, where she devoted most of her time to her charitable organization, the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

Some speculated that she turned her attention to furry friends because of all the people who had disappointed her in her lifetime, though Day herself never publicly addressed the subject. Three of her four marriages ended in divorce, and her third husband (and manager) Martin Melcher died and left her broke until she sued to reclaim more than $20 million from his business partner.

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For Day, as she told PEOPLE in 2011, her greatest loss in life was the 2004 death (from melanoma) of her son, music producer Terry Melcher.

“I had him when I was [18], so we were like sister and brother,” said Day, who found his passing “really hard. But I keep him with me. I wish he was here.”

Melcher’s father was Day’s first husband, Al Jorden. Day divorced Jorden shortly after Terry’s birth; her third husband, Marty Melcher, ultimately adopted Terry, giving him his last name.

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With her fourth and final husband, Barry Comden; the two wed in 1976 but divorced in 1981, and Day never married again.

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Day sent PEOPLE a photo from her 97th birthday celebration in April 2019.

“Doris will be spending a quiet birthday at home again this year surrounded by a few close friends,” her business manager Bob Bashara told PEOPLE. “She always gets lots of phone calls wishing her happy birthday. And, in the evening, she’ll enjoy a special birthday dinner followed by cake and ice cream.”

Less than two months later, the Hollywood icon died at home on May 13, 2019, with family and friends by her side.

“She lived by her most famous song, ‘Que Sera, Sera.’ That was her belief. Whatever will be, will be, and there is a purpose for everything that happens and you need to get on with her life,” Bashara told PEOPLE. “She always looked forward and looked for the good in whatever happened.”

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