This is the story of a brilliant and highly successful lady who thought that she was stupid, incompetent and unattractive. Penny Marshall was an outstanding actress, director and producer. In the 1970s, she received three nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Series Musical or Comedy for playing Laverne DeFazio in the sitcom Laverne & Shirley. In the 1980s and 1990s, she became the first woman to direct films that grossed more than $100 million (Big in 1988 and A League of Their Own in 1992). Her 1990 film, Awakenings, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. She also became a very successful television director and was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She broke just about every rule for healthful living and died at the young age of 75, on December 17, 2018, from "complications of diabetes." In her TV sitcoms Marshall appeared very slim, but over the years behind the camera she became obese. She did not exercise, smoked heavily and took a variety of drugs. She admitted to Matt Lauer on the Today Show that she had used cocaine, marijuana and Quaaludes in the past and at age 55, she checked into a substance-abuse program for addiction to prescription drugs.
A Life in Show Business
She was born Carole Penny Marshall in 1943 in the Bronx to a mother who was a tap-dance teacher and a father who was an industrial film director and producer. Her older brother, Garry, became a comedy writer and her sister Ronny became a casting director and producer. Marshall's performing career started at age three in tap dance recitals, but she grew to be a tomboy who would have preferred to be out in the streets playing ball with the boys. She said she hated dance lessons, yet the constant performances did give her confidence and a sense that she was able to entertain people.
She was a very mediocre student in high school and ended up at the University of New Mexico where at age 19 she became pregnant with her daughter, Tracy. She left college to marry the football-playing father, Michael Henry, but they divorced three years later. At age 24, she moved to Los Angeles to be with her brother Garry, who was thriving as a script writer for The Dick Van Dyke Show. Penny's first TV job, a shampoo commercial, made her feel even more insecure about herself. Farrah Fawcett played the beautiful girl with beautiful hair, while Penny Marshall was the "homely" girl whose hair was drab because she did not use that shampoo.
Her brother became the producer of the wildly successful television series The Odd Couple, and he helped Penny get the part of Oscar's secretary, Myrna. At age 28, she married another member of the cast, Rob Reiner, who played her boyfriend Sheldon. In her last appearance on The Odd Couple, Myrna married Sheldon. Their real-life marriage ended ten years later. Rob Reiner became best known as Michael "Meathead" Stivic, the son-in-law of Archie and Edith Bunker on All in the Family.
Her Longest-Lasting Relationship
In her late thirties, Marshall was in a short relationship with singer Art Garfunkel of the famous singing duo, Simon and Garfunkel. Paul Simon introduced Marshall to his wife, Carrie Fisher, who was the daughter of Singer Eddie Fisher and his wife, actress Debbie Reynolds. In spite of a 13-year difference in ages, the two women became instant friends. Marshall says that she tried acid for the first time with Carrie and John Belushi’s wife, Judy, while they were all in Chicago for the filming of The Blues Brothers.
In 1981, Marshall and Fisher hosted the first of 20 annual joint birthday parties (they were both born in October). The party guests included some of the most famous people in Hollywood, such as Jack Nicholson, Anjelica Huston, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck and Nicole Kidman. In 1982, Carrie Fisher was a featured guest with Marshall on Laverne & Shirley. The two women got Simon & Garfunkel to sing together after years of being so estranged that they would not speak to each other. In 2004, Marshall and Fisher starred in a movie together, Stateside. Marshall wrote in her memoir, My Mother Was Nuts, that their relationship lasted longer than the sum total of all their marriages.
Health Problems and Tragedies
• At age 66, Marshall was diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain, and after treatment with radiation and chemotherapy, she was told that she was in remission.
• I do not know at what age Marshall was diagnosed with diabetes, but after her cancer diagnosis in 2010, she continued to smoke and gain weight. The fact that she gained weight during her cancer treatment would indicate that she had diabetes that was totally out of control by that time (most people lose weight during chemotherapy). Type II diabetes can be a vicious circle; it is often caused by obesity, but many of the drugs that are used to treat it make the patient hungry so they gain even more weight.
• Her brother, director and producer Garry Marshall, died in July 2016 at age 81 from throat and prostate cancers.
• Six months later, her best friend Carrie Fisher died suddenly at age 60. Fisher's arteries leading to her heart were full of plaques and her blood contained high levels of cocaine and low levels of heroin, other opiates and MDMA. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The day after Carrie Fisher died, her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died from a stroke.
Cause of Death
The cause of Marshall's death was given as "complications of diabetes," which can include damage to every organ in the body. When blood sugar rises too high, sugar can stick to cells throughout the body to:
• damage the DNA in cells to cause cancers
• damage the liver. The liver helps to control blood sugar levels
• destroy the kidneys to cause the acidosis of kidney failure
• destroy brain cells to cause dementia and mood disorders
• damage nerves to cause pain and loss of feeling
• punch holes in arteries to form plaques that can break off to cause heart attacks and strokes. Seventy percent of deaths in diabetics are caused by a heart attack, stroke or heart failure. Most diabetics die from congestive heart failure, which means that so much of their heart muscle has died that the heart becomes too weak to pump blood efficiently to the brain.
Lessons from Penny Marshall's Death: How Obesity Causes Diabetes
Most diabetes, heart attacks and strokes and many types of cancers are caused by a faulty lifestyle, not by choosing the wrong parents. Marshall broke all of the rules for a healthful lifestyle and had become obese, which is the most common cause of type II diabetes. After you eat, blood sugar levels rise. To prevent blood sugar from rising too high, your pancreas releases insulin that drives sugar from the bloodstream into your liver. However, if your liver is full of fat, your liver cannot accept the sugar and blood sugar levels rise even higher to cause diabetes.
To prevent or treat diabetes:
• Follow a plant-based diet that includes plenty of vegetables, whole fruits, nuts and other seeds. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, follow your doctor's guidance on the use of fruits.
• Severely restrict sugar-added foods and sugared drinks including fruit juices, fried foods, red meats and processed meats.
• Avoid overweight. If you need to lose excess weight, I recommend intermittent fasting
• Try to exercise every day
• Avoid smoking, alcohol and recreational or self-prescribed drugs
• Keep blood levels of hydroxy vitamin D above 20 ng/ml
October 15, 1943 – December 17, 2018