this is "nightline." >> tonight, breaking news. hollywood legend debbie reynolds, mother of "star wars" actress carrie fisher, dead at 84, just one day after the death of her daughter. a look back at her life on and off-screen. ♪ singing in the rain plus medical miracle. one family's unplanned journey raising two girls with microcephaly. a once-obscure disorder thrust into the spotlight for its connection to the zika virus. challenges of caring for severely disabled sisters. tonight how this family defied the odds with their miracle children. and cat tales. the internet is full of cat videos but these are pet cinema. special effects, soundtracks, costumes, story lines.
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of her daughter, "star wars" actress carrie fisher. tonight we'll hear from celebrities in mourning as we celebrate a storied life, a one-of-a-kind screen presence. she was the definition of hollywood glamor in the golden age of cinema, debbie reynolds whose career spanned generations. yielding enduring classics like "singing in the rain." ♪ the dark up above died today at the age of 84. it's a tragic hollywood ending for the gifted actress with the mile-wide smile, passing just one day after her beloved daughter carrie fisher died of a heart attack. debbie's son todd fisher tells abc news his mother was under stress of the death of her only daughter, missing her terribly, suddenly falling ill at her los angeles home. at around 1:00 p.m. reynolds was rushed to the hospital in serious condition. doctors determined she had suffered a massive stroke but were unable to save her. >> there is a clinical entity known as broken heart syndrome
which refers to an entity where the heart muscle becomes temporarily stunned, does not contract or beat properly. so while we don't know whether that was the case with debbie reynolds, she lost her daughter. and anyone who's lost a child would say that losing a child is the most painful and the most stressful event possible in life. >> reporter: reynolds and her daughter carrie fisher were incredibly close. they lived next door to each other in beverly hills. >> separated by one daunting hill. >> reporter: featured in the upcoming hbo documentary "bright lights." >> mommy, mommy, i'm home! you cannot keep that phone, it's ridiculous. >> reporter: they had difficult times together as well. something they discussed on oprah in 2011. >> i always feel as a mother does, that i protect her. who will do that when i'm gone? i want happiness for my
daughter. i want carrie to be happy. and i can't have that. so -- that makes me sad. >> reporter: todd fisher looking for a silver lining telling abc -- >> she said she missed her daughter, wanted to see her again. i don't think she really meant it quite like that, but within 30 minutes, she went to go see her again. >> reporter: reynolds' illustrious career spanned six decades. an oscar, emmy, and tony-nominated actress. a tour de force and triple threat. reynolds could sing. ♪ how bright they'll shine >> reporter: she could dance. ♪ and she could act. >> we decided to have a big wedding and in two days my best friend alice hates me! >> reporter: she caught the studios' attention after winning the miss burbank beauty contest as a california teenager in 1948. ♪ good morning ♪ good morning
♪ it's great to stay out late >> reporter: quickly catapulted to stardom starring in "singing in the rain" in 1952 when she was 19. ♪ singing in the rain just singing in the rain ♪ >> reporter: the same age her daughter carrie would be when she stepped into her own iconic role, holding her own with some of the biggest stars of the day. even though she'd never danced professionally before, reynolds wowed audiences and was dubbed america's sweetheart. >> i bet that's just about the lonesomest sound in the world, a cowbell. >> reporter: she took to playing the good girl, charming as tammy in "the bachelor." ♪ tammy's in love >> reporter: in "how the west was won." >> do you want to live like a squaw all your life? >> reporter: it was her role in "the unsinkable molly brown" that would be perhaps the defining moment of her career. >> i might give out but i won't give in! >> reporter: her portrayal of the "titanic's" most famous survivor earned her an academy award nomination. >> i'm unsinkable. >> reporter: she recorded a number of hits.
this one from "tammy and the bachelor" went gold. ♪ i wish i knew if he knew what i am dreaming of ♪ >> reporter: her personal life far from the picture-perfect romances she acted out on the big screen. she was married three times, including one to pop singer eddie fisher who starred alongside her in "bundle of joy." >> would it interest you to know i'm not the mother. >> reporter: they were an a-list couple in hollywood's golden age and eventually the parents of two children, todd and carrie, before fisher infamously walked out on her for her best friend, elizabeth taylor. something reynolds joked about with the women of "the view" in 2011. >> elizabeth loved life, and i know because she took part of mine. >> reporter: not even that could derail the life long friendship shared by these icons. as reynolds told us on "nightline" in 2011 after taylor's death. >> no one could quite equal the beauty and sexuality.
women liked her and men adored her, including my husband at the time. she was a very smart, funny, glib, sharp lady. she could cuss like a sailor and she loved a good, raunchy joke. she was a great companion to everyone. >> reporter: she went through financial difficulties after her second marriage and had to restart her career on broadway, a move that forced her to pull daughter carrie out of high school. >> she didn't drop out, she was taken out of school by me, her mother, to go to new york city to be with me, to work and to stay with me. otherwise i would have had to leave her home without supervision. >> carrie recently spoke to "the hollywood reporter" about those tough times. >> her contract was up at mgm, she started doing nightclub work. i just watched and it seemed to me very painful. as a kid, as a teenager, everything's incredibly intense. it seemed like rejection to me. >> reporter: reynolds powered
on, working well into her golden years. >> no panty line because -- no panties. >> reporter: she developed a passion for collecting hollywood memorabilia. starting in 1970 at mgm studio auction, she collected over 3,500 costumes and thousands of movie props, photos and posters. in 2011 she auctioned off part of her collection, including marilyn monroe's ivory dress from "the seven-year itch." >> do you feel the breeze from the subway? isn't it delicious? >> reporter: the dress was purchased for a whopping $5.52 million, at the time the highest amount ever paid for a film costume. tonight fans far and wide mourning the loss of this legend, including debra messing who played her tv daughter on "will & grace." she tweeted -- "debbie went to be with carrie. it's such a devastating one-two punch. she was my mom for years and i loved her dearly. a legend." actor william shatner tweeting, "debbie reynolds was one of the last of hollywood royalty.
it breaks my heart that she's done. i'd hoped my grieving was done for 2016." reynolds' own last message to her fans was a post on facebook. "heart-wrenching thank you to fans sending well-wishes for carrie. i am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop. love, carrie's mother." now mother and daughter are together at that next stop. but the music and impact they made on the world will live on. ♪ you made me want you and all the time you knew it ♪ ♪ i guess you always knew it ♪ you made me happy sometimes always ♪ ♪ you made me glad ♪ but there were times dear ♪ i made you feel so bad what about the people i care about? ...including this little girl. and what if this happened again? i waven warfarin in the hospital,
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long before the world was concerned about the effects of the zika virus in newborn babies, the hartley family was confronting microcephaly on their own. on a medical odyssey to bring comfort and quality of life to their two afflicted daughters. here's my "nightline" coanchor juju chang. >> reporter: from the beginning scott and gwen knew there was something very different about their daughter clair. >> literally she was born and there was a lot of commotion which i remember thinking, what's going on? why are there so many people in here? >> reporter: moments after giving berth, gwen's doctor told her something just wasn't right. >> and i said in true gwen fashion, we'll fix it. that was my exact words, we'll fix it. he said, i'm not sure you can. >> reporter: it took months just to get a diagnosis,
microcephaly, a neurological condition in which babies' heads and brains aren't fully developed. what was your reaction? >> gals just so much fear. it was really hard. >> we went and saw specialists. they basically told us, she's going to be in and out of the hospital with pneumonias and she's going to be sick and you're going to lose her before she's a year. >> reporter: when you first meet clair her appearance can be unsettling. now 15, she also suffers from cerebral palsy, scoliosis, dwarfism, partial blindness. >> good grief. they keep throwing words at you and you're like, what does that mean? >> reporter: like most cases of microcephaly, clair's is genetic and was not caused by the mosquito-borne virus zika. but the global uptick in microcephaly cases because of the zika outbreak has helped raise awareness of the disease. complicationses range from mild
to severe. learning disabilities to seizures to impaired motor functions to failure to thrive. in the u.s. alone there have been reports of over 1,000 pregnant women infected bit mosquito-borne virus. enough to prompt public health alerts and a search for a vaccine. but the hartleys say the recent media spotlight on the disorder is both good and bad. >> the media's just created monsters out of this. i mean, nobody would wish this on their kid. >> you're frustrated because it is painted as the bogeyman? >> yeah. oh my god, let's please try to spray the entire country so nobody gets bit by mosquitos so nobody would have to have a kid like that. yet i'm greatful for the exposure and people say, does your child have microcephaly? you just used the word microcephaly! for 14 years it's like, she has what? >> do it, clair, you know what to do. yay! >> reporter: this summer gwen captured what she says are clair's first steps ever. >> those are the moments you'll look back and go, wow. you know? this is -- this is a life worth
living. >> you okay? >> reporter: throughout the years, as clair grew up alongside her big brother cal, doctors told gwen and scott the odds were on their side if they were to have a third child. >> it was sort of a leap of faith. i mean, it wasn't one that we didn't plan out and think through. >> you went in with eyes open? >> yes. >> reporter: 26 weeks into her pregnancy their worst fears were confirmed. >> i think we laughed about it. >> that was our first reaction. >> like just shocked. >> i know that sounds cruel but it was like that. >> can this honestly happen again? >> i think a lot of people would think about termination. >> that was an option for us, actually. >> reporter: yet it was their son, still quite young at the time, who helped his parents make the tough els choice of their lives. >> i remember cal saying, mom, i just want to know her. my gosh. it takes my 7-year-old to be able to come to me and say -- >> with the wisdom. >> the best piece of advice i could have gotten at that very moment. >> the other argue is, well, you're saving a child a lot of
suffering. >> right. we've been told that to this day. i feel like everybody's kind of entitled to their opinion about that. and i would never judge another person for doing it. do i ever question the decision? the answer is absolutely 100% no. i was given the baby i was supposed to have. >> you did so good, i'm so proud of you. >> reporter: like clair, doctors gave lola a bleaking proknows. now 10 years old, she, like her sister, has managed to defy the odds. >> i bet you there's been five to six times with lola where i thought we could lose her. and every time it's like -- she just continues to fight. >> i don't know whether i could have made it through. they're way stronger than i am. >> what do you mean by that when you say that? >> they want to be here. >> they really want to be here. >> how do you see their will to survive? >> you just feel it. >> the energy with her. >> when you hold them. >> you're not getting the words, you're not getting as many actions, it's all a feeling. it's this connectedness. like a soul level. >> reporter: that understanding is shared too by cal, now 17 and
senior class president. he's hoping to earn a college basketball scholarship. >> did you ever feel like, they get all the attention? >> i mean, sometimes. they have a lot of needs they need help with. i was never really worried about that. >> you knew your parents had your back? >> yes. always. >> can you say something? >> reporter: as we spent time with the hartleys we were struck most by how they deal with their stress. with a sharp sense of humor. >> i hear your goal is to be bleeped. >> i want to be bleeped at least one [ bleep ] time. did it work? come on, guys. >> i think you just did it. >> reporter: that laughter is the best medicine philosophy reflected in the videos and posts gwen shares online with nearly 40,000 followers, calling her family the hartley hooligans. >> you actually referred to it in writing as a walking freak show? >> yes. totally. i mean, i think that's how people view us. it's not something you see every day. >> some people say, you're making jokes. >> i'm letting her personality
show through. giving her a chance to not just be somebody you put in a box as a vegetable, somebody who doesn't get it. >> reporter: gwen insists they do get it, even though neither girl can speak. both are fed like newborns. clair gets all her food through a feeding tube. on some days, tracy simms is their devoted caregiver. >> she's probably the best mom i know. she's awesome. she's a great best friend. if they didn't have her for a mom, you know, they probably wouldn't be here with us. >> i'm not going to sugarcoat the fact that i feel like there were times when it was hard on our marriage. i think there was times it's been hard on our health. because i do worry and i am stressed. >> reporter: teachers and therapists come by to work with the girls nearly every day. >> good girl, clair. >> reporter: throughout all the hardship, gwen says her blog has been her lifeline. gwen loves sharing the girls' accomplishments, even the moments most of us would take for granted.
>> like the most normal thing she's ever done. >> good girl. >> reporter: she's girls may be tiny but they've had enormous impact on this family. scott, who owns his own glass-blowing studio, says he's learned not to worry too much about the future. >> i was a completely different person before i had clair. very self-centered. just materialistic. >> and now? >> completely different. the little things in life mean way more to me. >> the girls are little teachers. we try to just make each day the best we can make it. >> reporter: for "nightline" i'm juju chang outside wichita, kansas. up next, you know the expression "herding cats"? meet the guy who's creating a social empire doing just that.
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after washing apply and rinse 24 hours of moisture with no sticky feel. then get dressed and go. delight your senses with in-shower cocoa butter. available in the body lotion aisle. finally tonight, there are a lot of cat lovers on the internet. this next dude takes it to a whole new level. here's my "nightline" coanchor dan harris with another look at aaron's animals. ♪
>> reporter: the internet may be overrun with cat videos. but these are a cut above. videos of aaron benitez's cat doing everything from jet skiing to jamming out have made his youtube channel a viral hit. but aaron is quick to admit that he is of course not the main attraction. >> so this is prince michael here. he is the movie star behind aaron's animals. i got prince michael, noticed he was a super chill cat. i started making videos. >> reporter: prince michael and his adorable cast of costar critters are racking up millions of views but airplane says it's not easy. >> the challenge of working with prince michael is he's a cat. sometimes he wants to film, sometimes he wants to swat at a bag. >> when you add in the other persnickety personalities -- >> there's a lot of egos involved. the most difficult to make was "the cat house party" video, an absolute madhouse. >> reporter: aaron relies on special effects. add a lot of creativity to get
the job done. >> there was a shot in one of our videos where he swallowed. we were able to use that to make it seem as though he was sad. >> reporter: now that the sponsorships are rolling in, michael has more reason to smile. >> the brands that i love working with the most are movie brands. one of our earlier viral videos was "the fast and the furriest." our audience loves it because it's organic to what we've already been making anyways. >> thank you for watching abc news, and as always, we're online at abcnews.com and our "nightline" facebook page.
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