Penny Marshall was an actor, director, producer and writer who was behind some of the most iconic television and films of all time. Her older brother, Garry Marshall, was also an entertainment stalwart and she credited him with her start in show business.
Ahead of the ABC special The Happy Days of Garry Marshall, which features Penny and a cavalcade of other stars reflecting on Garry’s work, here is what you need to know about Penny’s death.
1. Marshall Died From Complications From Diabetes in 2018
In December 2018, Marshall died in her Hollywood Hills home due to complications from diabetes and heart failure, according to the Los Angeles Times. She previously fought and won a battle with lung cancer.
Her family said in a statement, “Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall. Penny was a girl from the Bronx, who came out West, put a cursive ‘L’ on her sweater, and transformed herself into a Hollywood success story. We hope her life continues to inspire others to spend time with family, work hard, and make all of their dreams come true.”
In a 2013 interview with Barbara Walters for ABC News, Marshall said she wanted to be remembered as someone who “made people laugh.”
“I hope I made people laugh, that I moved them, I touched them, that I lived, that I didn’t hurt anyone. I hope I gave you some enjoyment,” she said.
2. Marshall Was Survived by A Daughter and Three Grandchildren
When Marshall was in college at the University of New Mexico, she met a man named Michael Henry who was there on a football scholarship. She became pregnant at the age of 19, and they got married in November 1963. She quit school to get a job as a secretary, and in 1964 they welcomed daughter Tracy, Marshall told Newsweek in a 2012 interview.
However, Marshall and Henry split by 1966. Henry moved to Colorado and remarried, having another daughter with his second wife. Marshall married actor/director Rob Reiner in 1971. He legally adopted Tracy, and she is known as “Tracy Reiner” despite Marshall and Reiner divorcing in 1981.
Tracy went on to have three children — Spencer, 27, Bella, 15, and Viva, 14.
Marshall told Newsweek that what she thought was going to be a “major, life-changing mistake” actually ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to her.
“What I thought was a major, life-changing mistake that could have given me a scarlet A ended up giving me a wonderful family. … I have three grandkids whom I’m enjoying and love very much. My family is well, and that’s what’s important. In my opinion, life is more important than show business.”
3. Her Brother Garry Died 2 Years Prior to Her Death
Marshall’s older brother, Garry, preceded her in death in the summer of 2016 when he suffered a stroke and died a few days later. Marshall always credited her brother with launching her career.
“I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for my brother. Let’s be honest, he’s the one that pointed me in this direction, he got me parts. I didn’t know at the beginning they hired me so that he would rewrite or punch up a script. I didn’t know that at the time,” Marshall said in a 2016 interview about Garry.
But Garry saw talent in his sister and encouraged that, saying in the ABC special, “Laverne & Shirley broke new ground, something I had never been accused of that often. Like Lucille Ball, Penny and Cindy were both fearless performers. I admire them for that.”
Penny was so close to her brother that in her will she stipulated that she be interred in his plot in Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Hollywood, according to The Blast.
4. Marshall Was a Record-Setting Director
After she jumped from acting on television to directing movies, Marshall had one initial flop, the 1986 comedy Jumpin’ Jack Flash, starring Whoopi Goldberg as a computer operator at a Manhattan bank who gets recruited to take part in a wild adventure for the KGB. It was a complete bomb, according to the Washington Post.
But Marshall followed it up with the 1988 smash hit Big, which earned Academy Award nominations for star Tom Hanks and the writing team — though not one for Marshall, despite Big being the first time a female director earned $100 million at the box office.
She went on to direct such beloved films as A League of Their Own, Awakenings, The Preacher’s Wife, Renaissance Man and Riding in Cars With Boys.
When she died, Hanks, who starred in two of her biggest films, told Conan O’Brien that he has “nothing but” great memories of her. Her ex-husband Rob Reiner wrote on Twitter, “I loved Penny. I grew up with her. She was born with a great gift. She was born with a funnybone and the instinct of how to use it. I was very lucky to have lived with her and her funnybone. I will miss her.”
5. Marshall Said She’ll Always Be Laverne
Despite going on to have a prolific career as a director, Marshall told ABC News in 2016 that she was always happiest acting on Laverne & Shirley.
“No matter how many movies I direct, I’ll always be Laverne,” she said. And in 2007, she told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “I must say that it seems that people remember or have watched it from reruns on TV Land or Nickelodeon. I go to the basketball game, and they all still yell, ‘Laverne!’”
In the ABC documentary about Garry, writer Lowell Ganz said in an interview that Marshall’s ability to do physical comedy alongside her co-star Cindy Williams was “a revelation.”
“Their ability to do physical comedy was a revelation. They did things that if they had been done in 1922, people would be going to museums to look at them now as the greatest examples of silent comedy,” said Ganz.
And Penny added that she and Williams “could read each other’s minds,” something she doesn’t think she had “with anyone else [she] worked with.”
The Happy Days of Garry Marshall airs Tuesday, May 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.