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Unpacking Totie Fields’ Life Including Her Leg Amputation, Multiple Health Crises and Death

Oyin Balogun
Jun 30, 2021
12:20 P.M.
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Iconic comedienne Totie Fields led an interesting and relatively successful career until she started having multiple health problems in the latter part of her life.

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Totie Fields might not be widely remembered. However, that does not erase that she had, in fact, lived a remarkable life before her sudden death at the age of 48.

Fields' fame and success in Hollywood were followed by a life characterized by health struggles until her passing. Here's a glimpse into her life!

Totie Fields (1930-1978) poses for a portrait in 1970 in Los Angeles, California. | Photo: Getty Images

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FIELDS' CAREER AND SUCCESS

Fields was born Sophie Feldman on May 7, 1927, but later adopted her nickname Totie, which was how she pronounced "Sophie" as a child. Her surname was also changed to fit more into the showbiz business.

She got an early start in the entertainment industry, singing on the local radio at 4. By the time she was a teenager, she had toured the Borscht Belt and later worked as an all-purpose tummler in Boston strip clubs.

Fields soon became a national star with her comedic skills and became widely known for referencing her weight in jokes on stage. The comedienne was evidently a natural, and fans loved every bit of it!

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Totie Fields appearing on "The Many Faces of Comedy" circa 1973 | Photo: Getty Images

HER FAMILY LIFE

And while Fields' career took an upward trajectory, the comedienne's personal life was also going in a similar path. She married actor George Johnston in 1950, and two years later, they welcomed their first child, daughter Jody Fields Johnston.

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The couple expanded their beautiful family in 1955 with their second daughter Debbie Fields Johnston. And from there, Fields and George wholly embraced their role as parents.

While none of the couple's daughters went into entertainment, they inherited some of Fields and George's positive characteristics.

Totie Fields (1930-1978) poses for a portrait in 1970 in Los Angeles, California. | Photo: Getty Images

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For Jody, she

inherited

her mother's determination and zeal which she channeled into her work as director of a troupe of child actors in the '70s.

The lawsuit was eventually settled outside of court, with Keavy paying an $850,000 settlement to Johnston and his family.

Jody once admitted that Fields gave her and Debbie an unmatchable sense of self-worth and added that she hoped to pass it down to her kids someday.

Comedienne Totie Fields on stage on November 10,1967 in New York | Photo: Getty Images

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HEALTH ISSUES

Sadly, Fields could not replicate her success in the health department as she soon started experiencing health problems. These eventually led to her death.

As Fields became more famous, she also started gaining excessive weight. The comedienne tried to lose some pounds, but her efforts yielded very few results.

Fields were later diagnosed with diabetes which she lived with for several years. Additionally, she suffered from vascular problems.

American comedian Totie Fields (1930-1978) poses for a portrait in 1970 in Los Angeles | Photo: Getty Images

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In 1976, Fields underwent an unsuccessful facelift procedure, causing the comedienne to suffer a heart attack and develop phlebitis in her left leg. She was later moved to another hospital where she had her leg amputated, leaving her with an artificial limb until her death.

Despite this, Fields maintained a positive outlook on life, saying in an interview with People that she only lost her leg but not her talent or sense of humor.

The comedienne also admitted to feeling scared of what would become of her career after the surgery but added that she decided to make the best of her situation after a brief reflection.

Totie Fields' public portrait, circa 1968 | Photo: Getty Images

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A TRAGIC END

In April 1978, Fields filed a $2 million lawsuit against the seven physicians and St. Joseph Hospital where her cosmetic procedure was performed.

Sadly, the case was not finalized before Fields passed away in August 1978 from an apparent heart failure. She was only 48 at the time.

Two years after the comedienne's tragic death, Johnston filed a lawsuit, accusing Dr. William T. Keavy, the plastic surgeon who performed Fields' facelift, for causing the series of health problems that eventually led to her death.

Totie Fields with her husband, George, their daughter, Debbie, and their two dogs while taking a family portrait on January 01, 1965 | Photo: Getty Images

The lawsuit was eventually

settled

out of court, with Keavy paying an $850,000 settlement to Johnston and his family. A settlement might not have healed the pain of Field's unexpected death; there is no doubt that it did offer some solace to her grieving family.

Now, years later, the actress lives on in the hearts of her fans, her daughters, and all those who enjoyed watching her on their screens!

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