Doris Day, actress with wholesome image, dies at 97

AMERICAN ACTRESS and singer Doris Day holds a bouquet of roses at Le Bourget Airport in Paris, France, on April 15, 1955, after flying in from London.

Doris Day, the sunny blonde actress and singer whose frothy comedic roles opposite the likes of Rock Hudson and Cary Grant made her one of Hollywood's biggest stars in the 1950s and '60s and a symbol of wholesome American womanhood, died Monday. She was 97.

In more recent years, Day had been an animal rights advocate. Her Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed her death at her Carmel Valley, California, home.

Day "had been in excellent physical health for her age" but had recently contracted pneumonia, the foundation said in a statement. She requested that no memorial services be held and no grave marker erected.

With her lilting contralto, fresh-faced beauty and glowing smile, Day was a top box-office draw and recording artist known for comedies such as "Pillow Talk" and "That Touch of Mink," as well as songs like "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" from the Alfred Hitchcock film "The Man Who Knew Too Much."

Over time, she became more than a name above the title. Right down to her cheerful, alliterative stage name, she stood for the era's ideal of innocence and G-rated love, 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."

Day herself was no Doris Day, by choice and by hard luck. Her 1976 tellall book, "Doris Day: Her Own Story," chronicled her money troubles and three failed marriages.

"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.

A.E. Hotchner, who collaborated with Day on her memoir, said she had a "sweet and sour" existence and never let her personal difficulties "change her attitude toward people."

"She was such a positive, absolutely enchanting woman," he told The Associated Press on Monday. "And she was so loved."

Day received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004. 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 honor from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

The Humane Society of the United States, of which The Doris Day Animal League is an affiliate, praised Day as a pioneer in animal protection.

In 1987, Day "founded one of the first national animal protection organizations dedicated to legislative remedies for the worst animal abuse," said the league's executive director, Sara Amundson. Her foresight "led to dozens of bills, final rules and policies on the federal level," which helped end abusive videos, protect chimpanzees from invasive research and regulate the online sale of puppies.

"She is an icon in the animal protection world and will be sorely missed for her singular advocacy," Amundson said.

Paul McCartney, a friend, called Day "a true star in more ways than one."

"Visiting her in her Californian home was like going to an animal sanctuary where her many dogs were taken care of in splendid style," he said in a statement. "She had a heart of gold and was a very funny lady who I shared many laughs with."

He cited films like "Calamity Jane," "Move Over, Darling" and others and said he would "always remember her twinkling smile and infectious laugh."

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