Hollywood legend Doris Day has died at the age of 97.

She was one of the biggest female stars of her time, and starred in blockbusters including Calamity Jane.

The Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed the singer and actress died early on Monday at her home in Carmel Valley, California.

The foundation said in a statement that the animal rights activist was surrounded by close friends and "had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia".

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Her wholesome screen presence stood for a time of innocence in 1950s and 1960s movies.

She starred in romantic comedies Pillow Talk, Midnight Lace and Love Me or Leave Me, acting alongside leading men including Clark Gable, Cary Grant and Rock Hudson.

Her hit songs included Whatever Will Be Will Be (Que Sera), from Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which she appeared with James Stewart.

Her squeaky-clean image was referenced in the 1971 musical and 1978 movie Grease, in the song Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee.

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With her cheerful, alliterative stage name, the smiley blonde occupied a parallel world to her contemporary Marilyn Monroe. The running joke, attributed to both Groucho Marx and actor-composer Oscar Levant, was that they had known Day "before she was a virgin."

Her 1976 tell-all book, Doris Day: Her Own Story, chronicled her money troubles and three failed marriages, contrasting with the happy-go-lucky image of her Hollywood career.

"I have the unfortunate reputation of being Miss Goody Two-Shoes, America's Virgin, and all that, so I'm afraid it's going to shock some people for me to say this, but I staunchly believe no two people should get married until they have lived together," she wrote.

She never won an Academy Award, but was given a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, as George W. Bush declared it "a good day for America when Doris Marianne von Kappelhoff of Evanston, Ohio decided to become an entertainer".

Friends and supporters lobbied for years to get an honorary Oscar for one of the most popular actresses in history.

Although mostly retired from show business since the 1980s, she still had enough of a following that a 2011 collection of previously unreleased songs, My Heart, hit the top 10 in the United Kingdom. The same year, she received a lifetime achievement honour from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

Born to a music teacher and a housewife, she had dreamt of a dance career, but at age 12, she suffered a crippling accident when a car she was in was hit by a train and her leg was badly broken.

Listening to the radio while recuperating, she began singing along with Ella Fitzgerald, "trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words".

Day began singing on a Cincinnati radio station, then a local nightclub, then in New York.

A bandleader changed her name to Day, after the song Day after Day, to fit it on a marquee.

A marriage at 17 to trombonist Al Jorden ended when, she said, he beat her when she was eight months' pregnant. She gave birth to her son, Terry, in early 1942. Her second marriage was also short-lived. She returned to Les Brown's band after the first marriage broke up.

Doris Day holds a bouquet of roses at Le Bourget Airport in Paris. Photo / File
Doris Day holds a bouquet of roses at Le Bourget Airport in Paris. Photo / File

Her Hollywood career began after she sang at a celebrity party in 1947.

After early stardom as a band singer and a stint at Warner Bros, Day won the best notices of her career with Love Me or Leave Me, the story of songstress Ruth Etting and her gangster husband-manager.

She initially baulked at it, but the 1955 film became a box-office and critical success.

Day followed with the impressive The Man Who Knew Too Much, starring her and James Stewart as an innocent couple ensnared in an international assassination plot.

She sings Que Sera, Sera just as the story reaches its climax and viewers are beside themselves with suspense.

The 1958 comedy Teacher's Pet paired her with an ageing Clark Gable as an idealistic college journalism teacher and her student, an old-school newspaper editor.

But she found her greatest success in slick, stylish rom-coms, beginning with her Oscar-nominated role in Pillow Talk.

She and Hudson were two New Yorkers who shared a telephone party line and initially hated each other.

She followed with The Thrill of It All, playing a housewife who gains fame as a TV marketer, to the chagrin of obstetrician husband James Garner.

The nation's cinema owners voted her the top money-making star in 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1964.


Her first musical hit was the 1945 smash Sentimental Journey, when she was barely in her 20s. Among the other songs she made famous were Everybody Loves a Lover, Secret Love, and It's Magic, a song from Romance on the High Seas, her first film.

Critic Gary Giddins called her "the coolest and sexiest female singer of slow ballads in movie history".

Romance on the High Seas had been written for Judy Garland, then Betty Hutton.

Both bowed out, and Day, recommended by songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, won the role.

Warner Bros cashed in on its new star with a series of musicals, including My Dream Is Yours, Tea for Two and Lullaby of Broadway.

Her dramas included Young Man with a Horn, with Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall, and Storm Warning, with Ronald Reagan and Ginger Rogers. Her last film was With Six You Get Eggroll, a 1968 comedy about a widow and a widower and the problems they have when blending their families.

With movies becoming more explicitly sexual, she turned to television, and The Doris Day Show was a moderate success in its 1966-1973 run on CBS.

Disillusionment grew in the 1960s when she discovered that failed investments by her third husband, Martin Melcher, left her deeply in debt. She eventually won a multimillion-dollar judgment against their lawyer.

She had married Melcher, who worked in her agent's office, in 1951.

He became her manager, and her son took his name.

In this April 12, 1955, file photo, film actress and singer Doris Day poses with her husband and agent Martin Melcher at their hotel after arriving in London. Photo / Files
In this April 12, 1955, file photo, film actress and singer Doris Day poses with her husband and agent Martin Melcher at their hotel after arriving in London. Photo / Files

In most of the films following Pillow Talk, Melcher was listed as co-producer. He died in 1969.

In her autobiography, Day recalled her son, Terry Melcher, telling her the NZ$30.3 million she had earned had vanished and she owed around NZ$687,000, mostly for taxes.

In 1974, Day won a NZ$35 million judgment against Jerome Rosenthal, her lawyer and business manager, for mishandling of her and her husband's assets.

Terry Melcher, who died in 2004, became a songwriter and record producer, working with such stars as the Beach Boys. But he was also famous for an aspiring musician he turned down, Charles Manson.

When Manson and his followers embarked on their murderous rampage in 1969, they headed for the house once owned by Melcher and instead came upon actress Sharon Tate and some visitors, all of whom were killed.

Day married a fourth time at age 52, to businessman Barry Comden in 1976. She lived in Monterey, California — recently used as the setting for hit series Big Little Lies — devoting much of her time to the Doris Day Animal Foundation.