In an interview with People magazine earlier this month, Donny Osmond looked back on his nearly sixty years in show business and the vital support he’s received from one person: Debbie, his wife of 44 years.
“Debbie has given my life stability,” Osmond told People. “She keeps my feet on the ground.”
That stabilizing effect has been a blessing to Osmond from the very earliest days of the couple’s relationship. Debra Glenn was a 15-year-old cheerleader from Billings, Montana when she met 16-year old Donny. “There was something simple about her, and I lived a very complicated life,” Osmond told People.
But Osmond knew things would get more complicated for him when his relationship with Debbie became public. As a teenage heartthrob, Osmond had girls all over the world swooning over him—if he was no longer single, he knew the flames of adoration from his female fans would certainly cool.
So the couple kept their relationship secret for almost three years, ultimately dashing the hopes of countless teenage admirers when the romance became public in 1978. This, coupled with the end of the Donny & Marie show in 1979, led to a significant shrink in Osmond’s fan base, just as he’d foreseen.
Nevertheless, on May 8, 1978, Donny and Debbie were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, determined to move ahead and face whatever challenges came. And the challenges did continue. “We crashed and burned financially,” Osmond says. “It was the typical Hollywood story of having it all and then losing it all. So we had to rebuild.”
Part of that rebuilding involved hiring a publicity firm who looked for ways to increase Osmond’s public visibility. Their suggestion: he should purposely get caught smuggling drugs into the US on an international flight. That wasn’t going to happen. Osmond says that he “couldn't be a sellout.”
Mercifully, Osmond was ultimately able to turn his career around without any drug smuggling. He starred in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the early 90s and received wide acclaim, even though he suffered from anxiety that made him extremely nervous during performances. “I would walk on stage knowing I was going to die. It was horrible,” he told People.
As always, Debbie was there, with some critical advice. “Debbie said, ‘Why don't you go out there tonight and do an average show?’” Osmond recalls. “It ended up being the best show I ever did because I gave myself an opportunity to make a mistake.”
This newfound confidence helped carry Osmond through 2,000 performances over six years, turning Joseph into a huge hit. The show’s creator, Andrew Lloyd Webber, later chose Osmond to star in the 1999 film version. “It started the foundation of me being a multifaceted entertainer,” says Osmond.
Since then, he’s starred in an 11-year Vegas residency with his sister Marie, appeared on television shows like Dancing With the Stars and The Masked Singer, and returned to Vegas to star in his own solo musical residency.
Throughout the ups and downs, Debbie has been the support that Donny needed. The couple has five sons and 12 grandchildren. “That’s what balances my life out," Osmond says. “Family is the most important thing, because the curtain will come down eventually, and then what do you have?”
Read the full feature at people.com.