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Reynolds’ daughter, Carrie Fisher, presented her mother with the award, the union’s highest accolade, which recognizes career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment. The honor is given annually to an actor who fosters the “finest ideals of the acting profession.”
Fisher began her presentation by pointing out that she’s “very close” to this year’s honoree.
“Not only was my grandmother her mother, she is the grandmother to my alleged daughter. It also turns out that we’re neighbors,” Fisher said. “And if all this weren’t enough, she’s also my mother. She’s been more than a mother to me — not much — but definitely more.” After the laughs died down, Fisher noted some of the other roles her mother had played in her life, including stylist, interior decorator and marriage counselor.
“Admittedly, I found it difficult to share my mother with her adoring fans, who treated her like she was part of their family,” Fisher added.
After she recalled the work her mother had done professionally and personally, including co-founding a group that has raised more than $30 million for mental health and mental health-related causes, Fisher joked that $4.5 million is allocated for her.
“This is an extraordinarily kind, generous, gifted and funny woman,” Fisher said of her mother.
Fisher also provided commentary during the highlight reel of Reynolds’ work.
Over her more than 60-year career, Reynolds, 82, has starred in more than 50 movies, two Broadway shows and two TV series, earning Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe nominations for her work.
She made her film debut in the 1950 musical The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady, before landing a contract at MGM and appearing in movies like Singin’ in the Rain; The Unsinkable Molly Brown, for which she received an Oscar nomination; How the West Was Won; the film version of the Broadway hit Mary, Mary; Goodbye Charlie; Divorce American Style; How Sweet It Is; and In & Out.
In her acceptance speech, Reynolds called the award “unexpected” and recalled that she had great teachers, including Louis B. Mayer and Gene Kelly. She also that her favorite film she did was Singin’ in the Rain and, in which she had a “wonderful hairdo,” “a big ugly bun at the back of [her] head.” She said she told Fisher, who’d just landed her memorable role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, ” ‘Be careful of any weird hairdos.’ So luckily, George [Lucas] gave her two buns. Thank you, George.”
See more SAG Awards 2015: Red-Carpet Arrivals
Reynolds also recalled that in another one of her favorite films, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, she got to sing a song called, “I Ain’t Down Yet,” adding “Well, I ain’t.”
Reynolds received a 1970 Golden Globe nomination for The Debbie Reynolds Show and starred in ABC’s Aloha Paradise in 1981. She also earned a 2000 Emmy nomination for best guest actress for her recurring role as Debra Messing‘s character’s mother in Will & Grace. Additionally, she recently appeared in Behind the Candelabra.
The actress has also been an active philanthropist, co-founding in 1955 a charity to fight the stigma of mental illness. In 1979, she established the Debbie Reynolds Studio in North Hollywood to provide a comfortable space for dancers to rehearse and attend professional classes. She has been a lifelong supporter and fundraiser for the Girl Scouts and has been involved in the collection and preservation of memorabilia from Hollywood’s first half-century of filmmaking.
“[She] would give you the shirt off her back if Vivien Leigh hadn’t once worn it in Gone With the Wind,” Fisher said when presenting Reynolds with her award.
Reynolds is the 51st recipient of the award, joining past honorees Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke and Rita Moreno, who accepted last year’s award from Morgan Freeman.
The SAG Awards aired live from the Shrine Auditorium on TBS and TNT at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
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