Doris Day, the beautiful blonde whose sunny screen presence and silken singing voice guaranteed box-office and record-chart hits in the '40s, '50s and '60s, has died, her rep confirms to PEOPLE
Doris Day‘s life wasn’t always as sunny as her chipper personality suggested.
The legendary actress and singer, who died at 97 on Monday at her home in California, lived through a series of heartbreaks that she documented in her 1975 tell-all Doris Day: Her Own Story. Day worked with writer A.E. Hotchner to give fans a revealing glimpse into the life of the seemingly perfect girl — an image she said she detested.
“I’d like to deal with the true, honest story of who I really am,” she told Hotchner. “This image I’ve got … It has nothing to do with the life I’ve had.”
Read some of the most surprising details from her life below.
She survived a horrific car accident that cut short her career as a child dancer
Day was a distinguished child dancer in her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, before a tragic car accident cut her career short in 1937 at the age of 15. The actress was driving with friends when a train struck their car twice, shattering her right leg. Day speaks about it in her book, saying that at first she didn’t feel the extent of her injuries.
Day recounts climbing out of the car and discovering that her legs couldn’t hold her up before she dragged herself to the side of the road. After she saw she blood, the former dancer examined her leg until her fingers “came to the sharp ends of the shattered bones protruding from my leg,” adding that she then passed out and woke up in the hospital.
The crash left her bedridden for months while she recovered, but it led to her discovering her singing talent as she sang along to the radio — launching a successful career as a recording artist.
Her first marriage was anything but a fairy tale
Day married trombonist Al Jorden in 1941 after the two worked together in several bands. But Day soon discovered that the Jorden she fell in love with was not the man she married.
“What had represented to me as love emerged as jealousy — a pathologic jealousy that was destined to make a nightmare out of the next few years of my life,” she recalled.
Doris with her son Terry in 1971
Day claimed that on the second day of their marriage, Jorden struck her for the first time after seeing her accept a wedding gift from his bandmate. The abuse allegedly continued for two months, and Day said in the book she would have left him if she hasn’t become pregnant with their child, Terry. Though Jorden allegedly continued to beat her during the pregnancy, Day stayed with him while making secret arrangements to leave him. She eventually kicked him out of their home back in Cincinnati in 1943 and Jorden committed suicide in 1967.
She and Ronald Reagan were an item
Day dated future POTUS Ronald Reagan while they starred in the 1952 film The Winning Team, shortly before she married her third husband. In the book, Day talked about her love affair with Reagan and what the politician was like before the White House.
Day and Reagan in The Winning Team
The actress remembered Reagan as a skilled dancer who loved to go out, and as a man who believed in anything that he said. Day was so impressed by Reagan’s ability to express himself that she thought he should go on speaking tours.
“He wasn’t actually in politics, of course, but he had what I would call a political personality — engaging, strong and very voluble,” she said.
A third marriage left her in debt
Day was married to saxophonist George Weidler from 1946 to 1949 before she wed her third husband, Martin Melcher, in 1951. Day first met Melcher when he became her manager after, she claims, her original one — Al Levy — became obsessed with her and started stalking her. Though Day believed she had finally found the happiness she had been looking for, the actress discovered upon Melcher’s death in 1968 that he had been squandering away her savings and she was in debt.
“I seemed to have found the solid, serene life I had been seeking,” she said, before everything crumbled once she discovered the truth. She recalled being mystified by “this man who had slept with me, adopted my son, managed my career and business life.”
Day in 1963 while married to Melcher
Day realized she was broke after Melcher and his business partner Jerome Rosenthal had left her with nothing and committed her to several TV appearances, including The Doris Day Show. Day was eventually awarded over $22 million for fraud and malpractice.