Debbie Reynolds' death came one day after her daughter, 60-year-old Carrie Fisher, died from a heart attack.
Initial reports indicate 84-year-old Reynolds suffered a stroke. However, Reynolds’ son suggested she actually died of a broken heart. And, yes, that can really happen.
"It is a real disease,” said Dr. David Winter, with Baylor Scott & White Health. "And we see this in tragic cases such as the Debbie Reynolds' case."
Broken heart syndrome, or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, is very much real. It's often called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy because the left ventricle suddenly grows and takes the shape of a Takotsubo, a Japanese octopus trap.
"With a huge emotional outburst, stress hormones can go out in massive quantities to the blood,” Winter said. "And in some people, more common in women, that can affect the heart."
It happens more often than you might realize. Richard and Joan Flutie, the parents of football star Doug Flutie, were married for 56 years. They died last year less than an hour apart. Richard Flutie died from a heart attack and then his wife had one as well.
"They say you can die of a broken heart," Doug Flutie wrote on Facebook last year. "And I believe it."
And there are multiple examples, worldwide, of long-married couples doing just the same. In San Antonio earlier this year, George and Ora Lee Rodriguez died within three hours of each other. They’d been married 58 years. Their family says they died holding hands, George first, then Ora Lee.
"A sudden major stress to the body can cause a heart to stop, slow down, not pump effectively or even stop completely with a fatal irregular rhythm,” said Winter, who says medical interventions are not often as successful as the intervention, support and care of family and friends to shepherd someone through their grief.
"To sit there and grieve and get very emotionally upset can be deleterious to you and can even cause sudden death,” Winter said.