Debbie Reynolds had quite a difficult childhood. Growing up in Depression era El Paso, Reynolds recounted that early in her life, her family was unhoused, saying,
“We were rather poor, but we always had what we needed. We slept in the park before we had a house, and eventually we shared a home — my parents, my grandparents and five uncles, my family, all of us — on White Oaks Street by Magnolia Street near the railroad.”
By the time she was 14-years-old, Reynolds was a caregiver to her mother and grandmother, who both suffered from heart conditions. Compounding the stress of taking on such responsibility so young, Reynolds’ daughter, Carrie Fisher, revealed in a joint-interview that her grandmother was “abusive” to Reynolds.
“The big, big thing about my mom is that she had a very bad mom. She had a very difficult, mean, punishing mother. My grandmother, she could really hurt you. And that’s what she did, she did it really well. She hurt my mom.”
Reynolds defended her mother, saying that she so desperately wanted her to be successful. Winfrey would ask Reynolds if she believed her mother was jealous of her success, saying “I guess. That’s a word that I don’t like, but I think it must be true because in trying to evaluate why my mother felt like she had to be so tough on me.”
Fisher, highlighting the trauma, explained that her grandmother would often punish Reynolds by holding up two hands and explaining that, “This hand is six months in the hospital, and this hand is death.” Reynolds calmly responded, “But I’m still here.”
Regardless of her treatment, Reynolds cared for her aging family, later participating in Fearless Caregiver Conferences, helping bring awareness to the millions of Americans who care for family members and friends.