Debbie Reynolds' charitable work earned her the Academy's Hersholt Award


During the course of her career, Debbie Reynolds never won an Oscar. In fact, she was nominated just once — as best actress for the 1964 musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board of governors decided to remedy that in 2015 when it voted to award her its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, presented at the 74th Governors Awards. The Hersholt is awarded to an individual "whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry," and the Academy cited Reynolds' role as a founding member of The Thalians, the charitable organization founded by entertainers in 1955 to promote the awareness and treatment of mental health issues. Reynolds served as the group's president almost continuously from 1957 to 2011 as the Thalians raised millions it contributed to the Mental Health Center at Cedars-Sinai and UCLA's Operation Mend, which assisted military veterans.

Read more: Debbie Reynolds, Mother of Carrie Fisher and Star of 'Singin' in the Rain,' Dies at 84

Because of poor health, Reynolds could not attend the ceremony, and so her award was accepted on her behalf by her granddaughter Billie Lourd.

But first, Hollywood praised Reynolds for bother her career and her philanthropic efforts.

Zooey Deschanel kicked off the evening's series of tributes by singing the song "Tammy," which became a popular hit in 1957 when it was introduced in Reynolds' film Tammy and the Bachelor.

PHOTOS: Debbie Reynolds' most memorable roles

39 PHOTOS
Debbie Reynolds' most famous roles
See Gallery
Debbie Reynolds' most famous roles
Debbie Reynolds and gene Kelly in the 1952 movie âSingin' in the Rain.' (Photo by �� John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Debbie Reynolds holds Gene Kelly in a scene from the film 'Singin' In The Rain', 1952. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
Debbie Reynolds, US actress, singer and dancer, poses with Gene Kelly (1912-1996), US actor, singer and dancer, in a studio portrait, against a red background, issued as publicity for the film, 'Singin' in the Rain', 1952. The musical, directed by Stanley Donen, starred Reynolds as 'Kathy Selden' and Kelly as 'Don Lockwood'. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Harve Presnell and Debbie Reynolds get their fingers burned trying desperately save $300,000 that was put in the potbelly stove for safekeeping in a scene from the film 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown', 1964. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES,CA - CIRCA 1962: Actress Debbie Reynolds with Harve Presnell attends the premiere of 'Unsinkable Molly Brown' in Los Angeles,CA. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES,CA - CIRCA 1962: Actress Debbie Reynolds attends the premiere of 'Unsinkable Molly Brown' in Los Angeles,CA. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
American actor and singer Harve Presnell dancing with American actress, singer and dancer Debbie Reynolds in the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown. 1964 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Debbie Reynolds looking at Harve Presnell in a scene from the film 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown', 1964. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
JUN 11 1964; 'Molly' Returns to Denver; Debbie Reynolds, star of the movie, 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown,' is mobbed by fans as she arrives at Staple-¡ton Field Thursday. She will attend the world premiere of the movie Thursday night at Denham Theater. Most of movie musical production is set in Colorado and Denver.; (Photo By Jack Riddle/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Debbie Reynolds and Harve Presnell in publicity portrait for the film 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown', 1964. (Photo by Metro Goldwyn Mayer/Getty Images)
An amused Peter Brent (Leslie Nielsen) watches an excited Tambrey Tyree (Debbie Reynolds) as she takes in the sights and sounds of the big city in Tammy and the Bachelor. (Photo by �� John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
The American actress, singer and dancer Debbie Reynolds fishing by the sea, during a break in the shooting of 'Three little words'. USA, 1950 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Debbie Reynolds and Red Skelton in 'Three Little Words'. Image from the American magazine ' Hollywood life stories' n. 5, 1955. USA, 1955. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Fred Astaire and Red Skelton perform musical piece as Debbie Reynolds and group watch in a scene from the film 'Three Little Words', 1950. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Reynolds, Debbie - Actress, Singer, USA - *01.04.1932- Scene from the movie 'The Catered Affair'' with Bette Davis (l) Directed by: Richard Brooks USA 1956 Produced by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Vintage property of ullstein bild (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Debbie Reynolds in wedding gown in a scene from the film 'The Catered Affair', 1956. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) *05.04.1908-06.10.1989+ Actress, USA Scene from the movie 'The Catered Affair'' mit Ernest Borgnine und Debbie Reynolds (r.) Directed by: Richard Brooks USA 1956 Produced by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Vintage property of ullstein bild (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Bettmann
Debbie Reynolds, Ernest Borgnine, and Bette Davis in the kitchen for breakfast in a scene from the film 'The Catered Affair', 1956. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
February 1957: American actress Debbie Reynolds dancing in a scene from the film 'Bundle of Joy'. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Bundle of fans...Singer Eddie Fisher and his wife, film star Debbie Reynolds, are surrounded by autograph-seeking fans as they arrive at Idlewild Airport here December 16th from Miami. Representatives of an estimated 414 Eddie Fisher Fan Clubs in the metropolitan area turned out to welcome him as he arrived to attend the December 19th premiere of his movie, Bundle of Joy. Debbie costars with him in the film, completed just in time for the arrival of their own bundle of joy, Carrie Frances. The premiere will serve as a benefit for CARE and aid for Hungary.
(Original Caption) Eddie and Debbie-and a Baby. Baby (A) Prophetic? This is what Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds look like as the proud couple with an infant in the picture they are now making at the RKO studio, called Bundle of Joy. In real life, the romantic pair are expecting an infant of their own in November.
(Original Caption) Debbie Reynolds. Eddie Fisher appearing together in Bundle of Joy , 1951 it was Fisher Film debut. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
The American actors Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds kiss in a scene from the film 'The Rat Race' by Robert Mulligan. United States, 1960. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Bettmann
Bettmann
(Original Caption) Debbie Reynolds in Paramount's The Rat Race, 1966. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
The actors Mooredead Agnes, Debbie Reynolds, Kimm Charney, Carroll Baker, Brian Russell and Karl Malden, as a family of pioneers, on a raft in the film How the West Was Won. USA, 1962. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Debbie Reynolds on the set of 'How the West Was Won'. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Time flies...Hollywood: The sharp contrast between these studies of actress Debbie Reynolds is a tribute to Hollywood makeup artistry. At left, Debbie is shown as a perky, wide-eyed young girl in the MGM film, How the West Was Won. At right, hardly recognizable, Debbie appears later in the movie as a spunky old woman in her late sixties. Time marches on, with the expert help of the makeup department and wardrobe supervisors.
American actor Karl Malden (Mladen George Sekulovich) talking to American actress Carroll Baker (Karolina Piekarski). American actors Bryan Russell, Debbie Reynolds and Agnes Moorehead watching the scene in the film How the West Was Won. USA, 1962 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Actress Debbie Reynolds pouts to director Henry Hathaway on the set of the 1962 film How the West Was Won. Reynolds played the part of pioneer Lily Prescott. (Photo by �� John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) The Singing Nun...The three stars of The Singing Nun pose for a portrait in front of a picture of Pope Paul. They are, left to right, Agnes Moorehead, assistant to the Mother Prioress, Debbie Reynolds, Sister Ann (the Singing Nun), and Greer Garson, Mother Prioress of Samaritan House.
(Original Caption) The singing nun...Ed Sullivan, who plays himself in The Singing Nun, was so impressed with Debbie's ability to play the guitar, he asked her if she would give him lessons. Debbie, naturally, complied, but after Ed heard himself play, he said, 'Maybe I'd better stick to television.'
Little Carol Johnson held by Debbie Reynolds in a scene from the film 'The Singing Nun', 1966. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
Greer Garson reading note as Debbie Reynolds watches in a scene from the film 'The Singing Nun', 1966. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Any Wedding Announcement will Come from Mom. Hollywood, California: Singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds might be likened to a pair of love birds for sure in this picture but don't draw any hasty conclusions about wedding bells for them. Debbie said that any announcement of their wedding would be made by her parents and would give only a 'maybe' to queries on the wedding prospects.
After 24 years of show business, 49-year-old Debbie Reynolds is about to make her first appearance in Broadway. After a tumutuous tryout tour that began in Canada last November, she opens here on March 13th in a remake of the 1919 musical 'Irene.' Also making her debute will be Debbie's (and Eddie Fisher's) 16-year-old daughter, Carrie Fisher (seated left on floor), who is in the chorus of the show. Debbie says she's not a typical stage mother but 'it's wonderful Carrie wants to be in show business.'
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep then testified to Reynolds' charitable work. Said Fonda, "The award we are giving Debbie tonight, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, is presented not for her body of work as a performer, although we all recognize and cherish Debbie as the vibrant movie star who brought so much life and energy to her classic film roles, but for the outstanding work she has done outside her day job to improve our city, our country and the world. Debbie' philanthropy is both wide and deep."

Reynolds was so devoted to the issue of mental health, Fonda joked, that "she persuaded her daughter Carrie to pretend that she suffered from mental illness."

Read more: Hollywood Pays Tribute to "Legendary Entertainer" Debbie Reynolds

Carrie Fisher herself appeared in a video account of her mother's career and causes, saying, "I have no idea how she did all the things she did."

Streep went on to praise Reynolds' "passion to preserve the iconic costumes that we associate with Hollywood's golden age."

Reynolds did provide a audio acceptance, played for the crowd, in which she said, "I'm thrilled beyond words, shocked, and you couldn't be more amazed that a little girl from Burbank even came near this sort of accolade."

And Lourd, when she finally came to the podium to accept the award, concluded, "It honestly feels super-weird to be up here without her. I've never seen her miss a show in her life" — words that now, in retrospect, almost play like a fitting epitaph for the indefatigable performer.

Watch the videos below.

Read more: Why L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai Hospital Wouldn't Exist Without Debbie Reynolds

Read Full Story

Sign up for Entertainment Insider by AOL to get the hottest pop culture news delivered straight to your inbox!

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.