Penny Marshall, famed director and actor, dead at 75

Posted at 3:47 PM, Dec 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-18 18:23:29-05
Director Penny Marshall on the set of “Awakenings” with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro in 1990.Columbia Pictures / Courtesy of Everett Collection

Penny Marshall, who rose to fame as Laverne in the 1970s sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” and evolved into a powerhouse director, has died at age 75.

Marshall died Monday night at her home in Los Angeles due to complications from diabetes, according to her publicist, Michelle Bega.

Marshall became a household name as Laverne DeFazio, a blue-collar worker in a beer factory, in the sitcom, which aired from 1976 to 1983. She would go on to become a director of a string of hit movies.

She broke ground as the first female director to gross $100 million with “Big” in 1988,” which starred Tom Hanks.

Marshall also directed and executive produced “A League of Their Own,” also starring Hanks, Geena Davis, and Madonna. “A League of Their Own” was the second of her films to surpass the $100 million mark.

“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,” said a statement sent by her publicist.

Her other directing credits included “Renaissance Man,” starring Danny DeVito, Gregory Hines, and Mark Wahlberg in his first feature film role; “The Preacher’s Wife,” which starred Whitney Houston opposite Denzel Washington and “Riding in Cars with Boys,” based on the autobiography of the same name and starring Drew Barrymore.

Her brother, Garry Marshall, creator of the sitcom “Happy Days,” of which “Laverne and Shirley” was a spinoff, died in 2016 at age 81. Penny Marshall landed her breakthrough role in the mid-’70s with the help of her brother.

The Marshall family said in a statement: “Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall.”

Director Ron Howard said Marshall was “funny and so smart.” Marshall produced Howard’s 2005 film “Cinderella Man.”

“She made the transition from sitcom star to A List movie director with ease & had a major impact on both mediums,” Howard tweeted. “All that & always relaxed, funny & totally unpretentious. I was lucky to have known & worked with her.”

Rosie O’Donnell, who worked with Marshall on “A League of Their Own,” tweeted a link to a 1996 Kmart commercial she starred in with her and said she was “simply heartbroken.”

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

Reporting by Janelle Griffith for NBC News