Reynolds was born Mary Frances Reynolds, the second child of Raymond Francis Reynolds, a carpenter for Southern Pacific Railroad, and Maxine Harman.
She entered the film industry by winning the Miss Burbank beauty contest in 1948, gaining a contract with Warner Bros. However, the studio cast her in only two films, and she moved to MGM.
At MGM, she first appeared in 'Three Little Words'. A larger part in 1950's 'Two Weeks with Love' won praise, and soon she was touted as the new Judy Garland.
Though star Gene Kelly initially opposed her casting in his 1952 musical 'Singin' in the Rain', she did well, and the film remains one of the greatest Hollywood musicals ever produced. A series of less distinguished musicals followed, among them 1953's 'I Love Melvin', and 'Give a Girl a Break'.
On loan to RKO, she enjoyed major success in 1954's 'Susan Slept Here' and, upon returning to MGM, she was awarded with a new and improved seven-year contract.
Additionally, Reynolds teamed with real-life husband Eddie Fisher in the musical 'Bundle of Joy'. She earned an Academy Award nomination for 1964's 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown'. Debbie gave birth to a daughter, Carrie, in 1956, and to a son, Todd Emmanuel in 1958. It was shortly after her son's birth that Mike Todd, Elizabeth Taylor's husband and Eddie Fisher's best friend, died in a plane crash. Eddie spent much time comforting Elizabeth and they fell in love, resulting in the break-up of his marriage to Debbie.
By the middle of the decade Reynolds' star was waning; 1966's 'The Singing Nun' was not the hit MGM anticipated, and Reynolds disappeared from the screen to mount her own television series, the short-lived 'Debbie Reynolds Show'.
Reynolds then worked the nightclub circuit and Broadway. By the 1980s, she had become a fixture in Las Vegas, ultimately opening her own hotel, casino, and museum of Hollywood memorabilia.
In 1987, she appeared in the TV movie 'Sadie and Son', followed by 'Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder'. In 1992, Reynolds appeared briefly as herself in the hit film 'The Bodyguard'. She continued to undertake small roles in a variety of projects.
Reynolds died in DEcember 2016, only one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher.