Shelley Winters 'was crying for joy' after 'spiritual ceremony' to companion before her passing, pal says

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Shelley Winters was on a quest to find her soulmate.

And according to Sally Kirkland, she found it in Gerry DeFord. In 2006, the actress wed her companion of 20 years in a ceremony officiated by her friend, an ordained minister in the Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness. Closer Weekly reported the union took place on Winters’ deathbed.

The two-time Academy Award winner passed away that year at age 85. The cause of death was heart failure. Winters was previously hospitalized after suffering a heart attack.

Kirkland, a fellow actress, recently told Closer Weekly that Winters and DeFord were legally married at the Rehabilitation Centre of Beverly Hills, Calif.

Shelly Winters (left) and Sally Kirkland remained close pals until Winters’ death in 2006.
(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

At the time of Winters’ death, the Los Angeles Times reported that Kirkland performed a “spiritual wedding ceremony” for Winters and DeFord.

“Shelley was crying for joy,” Kirkland told the outlook about the heartfelt ceremony. “I can’t remember if there were rings or not. All I know is that she was happy.”

In her lifetime, Winters enjoyed a decades-long career in Hollywood. She first started out as a nightclub chorus girl and then advanced to supporting roles in New York plays.

She later became famous as a Hollywood blonde bombshell and then found herself immersed with the Actors Studio, compelling her to take on more serious roles as she matured. Her Oscars were for her portrayal of mothers.

Winters worked well into her 70s and even had a recurring role as Roseanne Barr’s grandmother on the 1990s TV show “Roseanne.”

Shelley Winters played Roseanne Barr’s grandmother in ‘Roseanne.’
(Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

In the ‘80s, the star wrote two autobiographies where she opened up about her romances with some of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men, including Burt Lancaster, William Holden, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn and Clark Gable, among others. According to the outlet, Winters estimated she had “hundreds of affairs.”

“[Shelley] told me stories about how [she and Marilyn Monroe] would make up lists of all the men they wanted to date,” Kirkland told the outlet.

Kirkland alleged Winters and Monroe were once roommates living in a “tiny apartment” in Hollywood where they would “take turns” bringing men home.

“Marilyn said she wanted to date Albert Schweitzer,” said Kirkland. “[She loved] all the intellectuals. Shelley wanted to date all the Italian hunks.”

Before DeFord, Winters married three times. She first said “I do” to Capt. Mack Paul Mayer. That union lasted from 1942 until 1948. In 1952, she married Vittorio Gassman, an Italian actor and screenwriter. They welcomed a daughter name Vittoria Gassman in 1953. The marriage came to an end in 1954. Then in 1957, Winters tied the knot with actor Anthony Franciosa. The pair called it quits in 1960.

Shelley Winters transformed herself over the years, leading a successful, decades-long career as an actress.
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

But it was DeFord who won Winters’ heart in the end, the outlet noted.

“She loved Gerry because he made her laugh and he would do anything for her,” said Kirkland. “They might not have been having sex every night, but he was the love of her life.”

The Los Angeles Times previously reported that Winters was a “role model” for Monroe when they were both young actresses in Hollywood. Winters alleged it was she who taught Monroe “the sexy, lips-apart look” that would eventually become her signature look.

After her tell-alls were published, Winters told the Chicago Tribune, “Compared to today, I wasn’t Polly Promiscuous, although I wasn’t exactly Vera Virgin either.”

The outlet noted that Kirkland was one of Winters’ protégés.

It has been reported that Shelley Winters and Marilyn Monroe were roommates during their early years in Hollywood.
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Kirkland previously told Closer Weekly in 2019 that Winters was proud of her accomplishments as a star, as well as how she reinvented herself over the years.

“Shelley always worked for her own livelihood,” said Kirkland at the time. “So much of what she taught me was about being fiercely independent.”

Kirkland also told the outlet that in her final years, Winters enjoyed watching her old films on TV.

“She was delighted to see her legacy was relevant, right up to the end,” said Kirkland. “Shelley was so happy. She was just like a little child.”

Winters is survived by her daughter, who later became a successful physician.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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