Fort Worth

Famed Fort Worth dancer remembers Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher

Fort Worth dancer Bruce Lea and Hollywood star Debbie Reynolds had been friends for years.
Fort Worth dancer Bruce Lea and Hollywood star Debbie Reynolds had been friends for years.

The memories of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher came quickly and vividly Thursday for legendary Fort Worth dancer Bruce Lea.

Lea, 67, was once Reynolds’ dance partner. She was godmother to his oldest son, and his family once babysat Fisher.

He said he called Reynolds at least two to three times a year, just to keep up.

“She was a very kind woman,” Lea said Thursday in a telephone interview, a day after Reynolds died. “I was a professional dancer for 10 years, seven of those she was my partner.”

Hollywood legend Reynolds, 84 and the star of the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain died Wednesday — one day after the death of her daughter, Fisher, 60.

Reynolds’ son, Todd Fisher, made the announcement.

“She’s now with Carrie, and we’re all heartbroken,” Fisher said from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where his mother was taken by ambulance earlier Wednesday.

He said the stress of his sister’s death “was too much” for Reynolds.

‘It was a dream working with her’

Lea’s friendship with Reynolds had stretched for decades. She was godmother to his oldest son, Brandin.

A native of New Orleans, Lea attended Texas Christian University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in ballet and theater.

He is now the owner of Bruce Lea Dance Factory in Fort Worth. His career included dancing professionally and teaching dance classes from New York to Los Angeles.

It was on Broadway in the early 1970s that Lea and Reynolds became friends. He had been a dancer with Bernadette Peters in the show On the Town, and then moved to a featured role in Irene, with Reynolds as the star.

“It was a dream working with her,” he said.

Lea noted that he is 5 feet, 4 inches tall, and Reynolds was 5 feet, 2 inches, so he was the perfect partner, height-wise, for the Hollywood icon.

Fisher, at the time, was 14 and also a dancer in Irene.

“She was just a sweetheart then, very bubbly,” Lea said. “She eventually went to acting school in London and developed a singing voice. She had a lot of Eddie Fisher in her.”

Lea remembers that his family babysat Fisher during her teen years occasionally, when Reynolds went out with friends.

‘Something called Star Wars

Reynolds and Lea’s friendship blossomed as he became a featured dancer in Reynolds’ Las Vegas nightclub show.

She came to Fort Worth to perform at Casa Mañana in the late 1970s and returned in 1988.

Lea said Reynolds opened doors for him to meet such celebrities as Sonny and Cher, Johnny Carson and Bob Hope.

“She was just a wonderful, kind lady,” Lea said.

Lea remembers a conversation with Reynolds about Fisher’s acting career at 18.

“She told me Carrie was trying out for a part in a new movie, something called Star Wars,” Lea said breaking into a laugh. “She didn’t know anything about it.”

Lea said he lost touch with Fisher as she battled mental illness, addictions and broken marriages.

But he and Reynolds continued their friendship, and she filled his life with memories that will last forever.

“In 1976, we were on the Tonight Show, Sonny and Cher, and a show with Bob Hope,” Lea said.

“She was an incredibly strong person, but I told someone the other day after Carrie died, that it was going to really hurt her. And it did.”

This contains information from The Associated Press.

Domingo Ramirez Jr.: 817-390-7763, @mingoramirezjr