She’ll be remembered as Princess Leia, primarily, but to reduce Carrie Fisher to that part is to lose sight of a magnificent life. She was funny, prickly, and powerful. She was dedicated to breaking down barriers around mental health, bipolar disorder. She fought against Hollywood’s sexist mistreatment of women. And she also happens to have “lucked into” the role of a lifetime.
Carrie Fisher was the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher. Eddie Fisher left Reynolds before Carrie was even born; he would go on to a lifelong struggle with drug addiction. Reynolds would remarry multiple times, and Carrie Fisher’s childhood–by her own account–was catastrophic.
Cast in Star Wars when she was 19, Fisher dropped out of acting school to play Princess Leia Organa. Leia was not Fisher’s first film appearance, that was in Shampoo, but it was the one that made Fisher an international icon. Fisher saw Leia as an adopted, lost young woman, and identified closely with her story. “From the first film,” she told Rolling Stone in 1983, “she was just a soldier, front line and center.”
After Star Wars, Fisher shot Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, often under the influence of cocaine. She also appeared as a scorned lover trying to kill the Blues Brothers in 1980, as part of the ensemble cast in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters in 1986, and opposite Tom Hanks in 1989’s The ‘Burbs.
In 1987, Fisher published her first book, Postcards from the Edge, a semi-autobiographical novel about an actress trying to get her life in order after a drug overdose. The book was adapted by Fisher into a film, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep in 1990. Fisher received a BAFTA nomination for best screenplay.
In all, Fisher published five novels and three non-fiction books, including 2008’s Wishful Drinking, subsequently a broadway show. In her writing, Fisher laid bare her past in tragic and hilarious detail. Her struggles with mental illness and bipolar disorder became central themes in her work; she addressed at length her experiences undergoing electroconvulsive therapy to address her bipolar disorder, and the memory loss that accompanied her treatment (including her answering machine message: “Hello and welcome to Carrie’s voice mail. Due to recent Electro Convulsive Therapy, please pay close attention to the following options. Leave your name, number and a brief history as to how Carrie knows you, and she’ll get back to you if this jogs what’s left of her memory”).
She wrote and spoke openly and hilariously about her drug use, pressure to lose weight, and the expectations of Hollywood on women. In 2007, Fisher parodied her own tumultuous years as a writer with an appearance on 30 Rock as a once iconic, now burned out, comedy writer living in squalor and unaware what decade she inhabits. “Help me Liz Lemon!” She shouts as she loses her latest chance to come back. “You’re my only hope!”
Fisher was always wary of celebrity and fame, and reluctantly accepted her celebrated status. A perhaps ironic stance given just how famous Carrie Fisher was. In 2010, she told Matt Lauer that had she known how big Star Wars would become, she would have turned the role down. As it happens, Fisher turned Leia into a fierce warrior in Star Wars and Empire, only to see the character stripped to a bikini and turned into a famous (and much parodied) slave-fantasy in Return of the Jedi. Carrie Fisher’s advice to Daisy Ridley, star of The Force Awakens included “fight for your outfit…You keep fighting against that slave outfit.” Though in another interview, Fisher owned the powerful Leia even in the gold bikini.
In 2015 Fisher reprised her role as Leia, this time General Organa, in The Force Awakens. And it isn’t without irony that the final appearance before her death will close a hard-drawn circle, as she comes to screen as her 19-year old self, digitally remade in this year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Fisher’s identity is so intertwined with Princess Leia that many may not even know of the real-life of the woman herself. So let it be known. Carrie Fisher was an iconoclast and a badass. She was a great comedian, a talented prose writer, and an honest soul. She was self-deprecating and didn’t give a fuck about reputation. Her boldness of character surpassed even the regal heroine of her Star Wars creation.
Possibly her greatest gift was her skill at mixing confrontation and humor. She could disarm while scoring a hit against a system that always seeks to disarm women. She could, for instance, tell a skinny news anchor that questions about her weight are stupid while defusing the situation and leaving no party injured and everyone laughing.
My favourite Carrie Fisher moment. GMA interviewer asks about her weight loss for Force Awakens and she IMMEDIATELY shuts it down pic.twitter.com/Mj0UxJZ8ZG
— Lee Dawson (@LeeDawsonPT) December 27, 2016
In Wishful Drinking, Fisher wrote about the strength required to live with mental illness, and it’s this, along with Leia, that must be remembered about Carrie Fisher.
One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.
Carrie Fisher died today,
four days after a cardiac arrest drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra. She was 60.