Cindy Williams, famous as Shirley Feeney of the beloved Milwaukee-set sitcom “Laverne & Shirley,” died at the age of 75 on Jan. 25 after a brief illness. Her children, Emily and Zak Hudson, provided a statement to the Associated Press on Monday.
“The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed,” their statement said. “Knowing and loving her has been our joy and privilege. She was one of a kind, beautiful, generous and possessed a brilliant sense of humor and a glittering spirit that everyone loved.”
In early July, Milwaukee Magazine spoke with Williams in anticipation of her one-woman show, Me, Myself & Shirley, which was scheduled for the Pabst Theater in October. We planned to publish the interview in that month’s issue of the magazine, but the show was canceled. We’ve been holding onto the Q&A since, in hopes that Williams would reschedule.
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After hearing the sad news of her passing, we were reminded of the as-yet unpublished conversation and wanted to share what we had as a tribute to Williams, who reflected on her love of Milwaukee and the reason “Laverne and Shirley” resonated with so many viewers.
Williams was a charming and affable subject, peppering our discussion with exclamations like “Holy catfish!” and telling animated, delightful stories about her long career in Hollywood.
Here’s an edited transcript of the interview with the Milwaukee icon, who will be dearly missed.
Q&A From July, 2022
“Laverne and Shirley” has been a beloved show for many years – longer than many sitcoms. Why do you think it’s had such staying power?
Because we played everyday people. Blue collar workers. We had things in common with everybody. We struggled to pay the rent, the electric bill, the gas bill. You know everybody can relate to that. I talk about this in [Me, Myself & Shirley]. We always wanted to maintain the sense that the wolf was always nipping at our characters’ heels and we were just one half step ahead. That’s also why it’s set in a city like Milwaukee.
How do you choose which stories from your life to include in your live show?
Penny [Marshall, who played Laverne] and I had many adventures that would challenge any episode on “Laverne and Shirley.”
Paramount Studios sent us to the south of France for the TV festival – not the film festival, mind you, but the TV festival. They put us in this beautiful old hotel with grounds that went down to the Mediterranean, and there was this graveyard there with tiny headstones. We were both jet lagging so bad, and I said, ‘Look, they have a pet cemetery,’ and Penny goes, ‘No, it’s where they buried the help. All the butlers and maids.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me? They bury the butlers and maids out here?’ And we were arguing over this, so we get up and go to see the gravestones, and I read one. ‘Au Revoir mon petit Skippy? Really, Penny? You think Skippy was the butler?’”
Did you have any experience with Milwaukee before being cast as Shirley?
Milwaukee came from one of the producers [Thomas L. Miller], who was born and grew up in Milwaukee. They didn’t want to set the show in some big city like Los Angeles or New York. Penny and I visited Milwaukee. It’s such a wonderful city. The river, the breweries. I love the layout. All the times I’ve been there, it’s like the sun is shining perfectly on the city. And I like the people – the citizens of Milwaukee are such lovely, friendly, fun-loving people. I’m really looking forward to being back there again.