Entertainment Celebrity Penny Marshall, actress and trailblazing director, dies aged 75
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Penny Marshall, actress and trailblazing director, dies aged 75

Penny Marshall
Marshall's success broke barriers for women in Hollywood. Photo: Getty
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Hollywood trailblazer Penny Marshall, who starred in the 1970s hit sitcom Laverne & Shirley before becoming one of the top-grossing female directors, has died aged 75.

Marshall’s publicist Michelle Bega said on Wednesday (Australian time) the star died peacefully at her Hollywood Hills home from diabetes complications.

“Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall,” her family said.

“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,” it said, referring to her signature Laverne De Fazio look.

“We hope her life continues to inspire others to spend time with family, work hard and make all of their dreams come true.”

During her nearly six decades in Hollywood, Marshall starred in Mork & Mindy, Happy Days and The Odd Couple before becoming the first woman to direct a movie that grossed more than US$100 million ($139 million) with 1988 comedy Big, starring Tom Hanks.

Actor, director and producer Rob Reiner – Marshall’s second husband, who adopted her actress daughter Tracy from her first marriage to athlete Michael Henry – tweeted upon learning of her death: “So sad about Penny.”

Minutes later, the Oscar nominee posted again.

“I loved Penny,” Reiner, who was married to Marshall for 10 years from 1971, wrote.

“She was born with a great gift. She was born with a funny bone and the instinct of how to use it. I was very lucky to have lived with her and her funny bone. I will miss her.”

Reiner led a chorus of reflective A-listers honouring Marshall, including Reese Witherspoon, who paid tribute on Instagram to “an inspiring” woman.

Born Carole Penny Marshall into an Italian-American family in New York, Marshall quit the University of New Mexico to join her Pretty Woman director brother Garry in Los Angeles in 1967.

She made her movie debut in Debbie Reynolds and James Garner’s 1968 comedy How Sweet It Is, then hit a lean patch.

“I wasn’t perky,” she once said. In a 1970 shampoo ad, she was the plain Jane to Farrah Fawcett’s California girl blonde.

After roles in The Odd Couple and Happy Days, she and Cindy Williams hit gold playing Milwaukee brewery worker roommates in Laverne & Shirley. In its eight-year run from 1976-1983, Marshall was nominated for three Golden Globes.

Her co-star Michael McKean tweeted, “I don’t know what to say.”

After Big, she also directed A League Of Their Own, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Awakenings.

A League of Their Own star Rosie O’Donnell wrote she is “simply heartbroken” and Robert De Niro told People, “Penny will be missed. May she rest in peace.”

Billy Crystal wrote, “Sad to hear of Penny Marshall’s passing. A great comedienne a terrific director and a dear friend.”

Tweeted Ron Howard, whose film Cinderella Man was produced by Marshall, “She was funny and so smart.”

Marshall is survived by her older sister Ronny, daughter Tracy Reiner, and three grandchildren: Spencer, Bella and Viva.

She was an avid sports fan and a courtside regular at Los Angeles Lakers games. She also amassed an an extensive collection of sports memorabilia.

-with agencies