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Doris Day, America’s Box-Office Sweetheart Dead at 97

A sad one for Hollywood and (DDAF) Doris Day Animal Foundation as Doris Day, the box-office queen and singing star, has died, her foundation announced Monday she was 97.

The actress passed away early Monday surrounded by a few close friends at her Carmel Valley home, according to the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

She had celebrated her 97th birthday just last month with nearly 300 fans who gathered in Carmel to celebrate with her.

Day had recently contracted a serious case of pneumonia which resulted in her death, the foundation said.

Day was arguably the top female box-office star in Hollywood history, with a No. 1 ranking in 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1964. She had her first hit as a big-band vocalist during World War II before making nearly 40 movies in the next two decades, reigning supreme at a time when her contemporaries included Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.

Sex comedies such as “Pillow Talk,” “Lover Come Back” and “That Touch of Mink” established her as a sunny but slightly uptight career woman who fought off men’s advances.

“My public image is unshakably that of America’s wholesome virgin, the girl next door, carefree and brimming with happiness. An image, I can assure you, more make-believe than any film part I ever played,” Day told A.E. Hotchner in her memoir, “Doris Day: Her Own Story.”

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Or as one-time co-star Oscar Levant famously joked, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.”

The chaste screen persona seemed at odds with her private life.

She married four times and had a child before she was 20. She described her first husband as a “psychopathic sadist” who beat her. Her second husband told her by letter that he was leaving her after eight months. Husband No. 3 was agent Martin Melcher, who mismanaged her fortune and left her in debt when he died. Her fourth, restaurateur Barry Comden, complained to the press that she kicked him out of bed for her pets.

Day also suffered from panic attacks in the early ’50s, what she later described as “tantamount to a nervous breakdown.”

She was born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati.

She dreamed of a career as a dancer until she injured her right leg in a car accident as a teenager. During a long convalescence, she immersed herself in the big-band sounds of Tommy Dorsey and the vocals of Ella Fitzgerald.

She soon became a performer on local radio and then joined a swing band. The bandleader feared that her last name, Kappelhoff (“von” had been dropped), was too long for a marquee, so he dubbed her Doris Day after a song of hers, “Day After Day.”

“But I never did like it. Still don’t. I think it’s a phony name,” Day said more than 30 years later.

Her blonde good looks and smooth, velvety voice ensured that she quickly moved up the musical ranks. As a singer in Les Brown’s band, she scored a hit with “Sentimental Journey,” a defining ballad for servicemen returning from World War II.

Brown said later, “I’d say that next to Sinatra, Doris is the best in the business on selling a lyric.”

Day would record more than 600 songs and nearly 30 albums, including such hits as “It’s Magic,” “Secret Love,” “Que Sera, Sera” and “Everybody Loves a Lover” and concept albums such as 1956’s “Day by Day” and 1957’s “Day by Night.” As recently as 2011, her album “My Heart” made the UK Top 10. She received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008

By the mid-’70s, she withdrew from the limelight to focus on animal rights and set up the Doris Day Animal League and Doris Day Animal Foundation. In a 2012 interview with “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross, Day admitted that she had about 30 dogs at one point.

“All my life, I have never felt lonely with a dog I loved at my side, no matter how many times I’ve been alone,” she said in her memoir.

As a staunch advocate for animals, she briefly came out of retirement to host a cable TV pet show called “Doris Day’s Best Friends,” which included an emotional reunion with three-time co-star Hudson shortly before his death in 1985.

Perhaps her closest friend, son Terry Melcher, a music producer, died in 2004 at 62. He was survived by his son, Ryan.

There was talk of comebacks: She reportedly was offered “Murder, She Wrote” and the Debbie Reynolds role in “Mother” in 1996. But she resisted Hollywood overtures. In 2015, she batted down reports she was to appear in a Clint Eastwood film.

During her career and retirement, Day always seemed to adhere to the philosophy of her biggest hit, “Que Sera, Sera,” which she initially opposed as a “kiddie song” but which became her signature tune.

“Que sera, sera.

Whatever will be, will be;

The future’s not ours to see.

Que sera, sera,

What will be, will be.”

Reaction to her death poured in from Hollywood.

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