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'Unsinkable' Debbie Reynolds Saw Career Highs, Lows In Las Vegas

Debbie Reynolds tries her luck on a slot machine at the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1997.
AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

Debbie Reynolds tries her luck on a slot machine at the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1997.

Las Vegas played an outsized role in the triumphs and tragedies of Debbie Reynolds, the legendary entertainer who died Wednesday, one day after the passing of her daughter Carrie Fisher.

Reynolds first played the Strip in the 1950s after becoming a star in films like “Singin' in the Rain.” She would go on to be a regular Las Vegas headliner and in the 1990s owned the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel and Casino, which featured her showbiz memorabilia.

She had some bad luck in Las Vegas, including having her then-husband, shoe tycoon Harry Karl, gamble away millions in the 1960s and losing her Convention Center Drive hotel in a 1998 bankruptcy auction.

“She might have been like a lot of others, unequaled on stage, but as a business person didn’t know when to pull the plug,” said longtime Las Vegas celebrity writer Norm Clarke.

Through it all she remained as unsinkable as her famed film character Molly Brown, keeping a house in Las Vegas and constantly working, including playing Liberace’s mother in the 2013 film “Beyond the Candelabra.”

Clarke said he and Reynolds were neighbors at the Regency Towers at the Las Vegas Country Club, where the singer and actress had a unit for 40 years.

He recounts in a columnhow he encountered Reynolds and her entourage in the lobby after the group had been out for a night on the town.

“I walked past a group and they were laughing uproariously,” Clarke said. “Debbie was a bit tipsy and said she could still do splits” even though she was in her mid-70s.

“And to prove it, she just plopped down, the Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

Norm Clarke, celebrity writer

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.