Hollywood legend Doris Day dies at age 97

(Gray News) - Doris Day, whose wholesome screen presence stood for a time of innocence in ’60s films, has died. She was 97 years old.

The Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed Day died early Monday at her Carmel Valley, Calif., home. The foundation said in an emailed statement she was surrounded by close friends and “had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia.”

Day was once one of the biggest female box office stars in American history and an accomplished, award-winning singer, who retired in her 50s to follow her dreams into animal activism and rescue.

She was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, and during her lifetime, three of her songs - “Sentimental Journey,” “Secret Love" and “Que Sera Sera” - were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The latter two songs also won Academy Awards for Best Original Song in the 1950s.

She received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for her film work and one for her music work. In 2004, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President George W. Bush for her work on behalf of animals - but a fear of flying caused her to miss the ceremony.

Her fear also led her to turn down an honorary Academy Award and Kennedy Center Honors Award because she could not fly out to receive them.

Nevertheless, Day considered herself “blessed.”

“I just feel so fortunate and so blessed to have been able to entertain people in the theaters and on record, it’s just an amazing life that I’ve experienced,” she said in a statement on her official website.

With her lilting contralto, wholesome blonde beauty and glowing smile, she was a top box office draw known for such films as “Pillow Talk” and “That Touch of Mink."

But over time, she became more than a name above the title: Right down to her cheerful, alliterative stage name, she stood for a time of 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.

In "Pillow Talk," released in 1959 and her first of three films with Rock Hudson, she proudly caught up with what she called "the contemporary in me." Her 1976 tell-all book, "Doris Day: Her Own Story," chronicled her money troubles and three failed marriages, contrasting with the happy publicity 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.

The youngest of three children, Day was born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in 1922.

In the 1930s, attracted to music and dance, she formed part of a dance duo - but that ended after a horrific accident in which her leg was crushed when a car she was riding in was hit by a train.

During her recuperation, she honed her singing voice with the help of a vocal coach. Day had two stints singing with Les Brown and his big-band musical group, The Band of Renown.

"She was every bandleader's dream, a vocalist who had natural talent, a keen regard for the lyrics and an attractive appearance," Brown said.

Her singing opened the door to acting, and in 1959, she was the star of “Pillow Talk” and in 1963,Move Over, Darlingand “The Thrill of it All.”

When her third husband, film producer Martin Melcher, died in 1968, Day was shocked to learn that he and his business partner, Jerome Bernard Rosenthal, had squandered her earnings for 17 years.

Day was awarded damages after a legal battle with Rosenthal, but soon learned her late husband had committed her to appear in a TV series, which soon became "The Doris Day Show” and aired from 1968 until 1973.

She retired when the show ended, making it her last film or television role.

In the 1970s, Day joined the organization Actors and Others for Animals, often going door-to-door to rescue pets. Eventually, she began the Doris Day Animal League and later, the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

The league continues to lobby on behalf of animal rights, while the foundation operates as a hands-on animal welfare charity.

Day was well-known for her love of horses, helping to fund the Doris Day Animal Horse Rescue and Adoption Center in Murchison, TX, in 2011. The center rescues and houses abused and neglected horses.

In 2017, the Associated Press obtained a copy of Day’s birth certificate, surprising even Day when the document revealed that she was born on April 3, 1922 - two years earlier than she had long believed.

“I’ve always said that age is just a number and I have never paid much attention to birthdays, but it’s great to finally know how old I really am!” Day said in a statement on April 2, 2017.

After her retirement, Day enjoyed a quiet life out of the spotlight at her home in Carmel Valley, CA.

She had one son, Terry Melcher, who died of melanoma in 2004.

Copyright 2019 Gray Television Group, Inc. The Associated Press contributed to the report. All rights reserved.