I had a bad feeling about this.
When Carrie Fisher’s mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, issued this statement two days after Fisher had a heart attack aboard a plane from London to Los Angeles, I read between the lines.
Carrie is in stable condition.If there is a change,we will share it. For all her fans & friends. I thank you for your prayers & good wishes. pic.twitter.com/isXJqqFEB6
— Debbie Reynolds (@DebbieReynolds1) December 25, 2016
“Stable” sounded benign but “If there is a change” most decidedly did not. Not when it didn’t follow something like, “Carrie is resting comfortably, translating one liners into emojis for Twitter, and feeding hospital Jello to her beloved French bulldog Gary Fisher.”
I chose to think positively anyway. Mostly, I was positive that we couldn’t lose witty actress/author/screenwriter Carrie Fisher at the young age of 60. Not after a year in which we bid farewell to cultural influencers David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Natalie Cole, Leonard Cohen, Gwen Ifill, Pat Summitt, Gene Wilder, Elie Wiesel, Pete Burns, Bill Cunningham, Garry Marshall, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, China Machado, Franca Sozzani, George Martin, Florence Henderson, Phife Dawg, Janet Reno, Katherine Dunn, House of Style creator Alisa Bellettini, and — in the jewelry industry — the beloved Cindy Edelstein. (That’s not even the whole list, and that was before George Michael was found dead on Christmas day.)
Sadly, my first instinct was right and Carrie Fisher has died, drowned in moonlight and strangled by her own bra. That’s how Fisher said she wanted her obituary to read, regardless of how she actually died, in her book Wishful Drinking, adapted from her one-woman play of the same name. The line was the kicker for an anecdote about how on the first day of filming the first Star Wars movie, director George Lucas eyeballed her white costume and said, “You can’t wear a bra under that dress… Because … there’s no underwear in space.”
“I promise you this is true, and he says it with such conviction too!” Fisher wrote. “Like he had been to space and looked around and he didn’t see any bras or panties or briefs anywhere.”
Many years later, Fisher wrote, Lucas attended her Wishful Drinking show and came backstage to clarify the argument he had made to the then 19-year-old actress: “So, what happens is you go to space and you become weightless. So far so good, right? But then your body expands??? But your bra doesn’t — so you get strangled by your own bra.” That would make a “fantastic obit,” Fisher decided.
That brief passage captures so much about Fisher. She didn’t hesitate to point out how men treat women in her business, and she easily skewered their body obsession with relentless humor. Even as the insecure teenage daughter of scandalous Hollywood stars (her father, singer Eddie Fisher, left her mother for Elizabeth Taylor when Carrie was only two) — suddenly catapulted into her own out-of-this-world stardom — Fisher “established Princess Leia as a damsel who could very much deal with her own distress, whether facing down the villainy of the dreaded Darth Vader or the romantic interests of the roguish smuggler Han Solo,” as Dave Itzkoff wrote for The New York Times.
As for the notorious metal bikini she wore as Jabba the Hutt’s slave in Return of the Jedi, she neatly dismissed a recent, drummed-up controversy in a Wall Street Journal interview last year:
“The father who flipped out about it, ‘What am I going to tell my kid about why she’s in that outfit?” Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.'”
Also speaking to the Journal last year, Fisher said, “My best self isn’t an actress.” It was as a writer that she was most herself, hilariously confronting issues of celebrity, drug addiction, and bipolar disorder in both her semiautobiographical novels and memoirs. I haven’t read The Princess Diarist yet — she was returning from promoting that book in England when she fell ill — but I’m sure it’s as worthy as her other ones, and not just because she brought joy to “Carrison” shippers all over the world by confirming that she had a three-month affair with co-star Harrison Ford while shooting the first Star Wars film.
Carrie Fisher’s books:
- Postcards From the Edge, 1987
- Surrender the Pink, 1990
- Delusions of Grandma, 1993
- The Best Awful, 2004
- Wishful Drinking, 2008
- Shockaholic, 2012
- The Princess Diarist, 2016
In addition to writing books, Fisher was a popular, uncredited “script doctor” in the 1990s. (Her tip for improving a script was, “Make the women smarter and the love scenes better.”) In 2008, she told Newsweek that she stopped doing the work when producers started requiring rewrite notes on spec with no guarantees of payment. (That stance gives me particular joy because it reminds me of people in my industry finally refusing to work on consignment.) Presumably, she learned not to be taken advantage of that way after signing away rights to her likeness in the Star Wars days. In a 2011 interview, she said she was resigned to the loss of her merchandising money — though she did add impishly:
“Every so often, I wonder if Natalie Portman is getting more money than the none I’m getting. If she’s holding a check for Princess Amidala’s likeness in one hand and her Oscar in the other, that would piss me off.”
Though writing was her preference, we’ll have a few final on-screen moments with Fisher. While in London, in addition to promoting her new book, Fisher reprised her role as an “awful mother” on the Amazon series Catastrophe. There are two episodes of Family Guy in which she voices Peter’s boss, Angela. (In an interview, she said working on an animated show was, “Dull, except they have candy.”) More significantly, she had finished shooting her role for the eighth film in the Star Wars franchise. That movie is due out next December. The ninth episode is set to begin filming in 2018; according to Variety, she was supposed to appear in that one too. The character of General Organa will be missed. That’s who Fisher played, starting with 2015’s The Force Awakens. Even though Leia was never a traditional damsel-in-distress, it meant a lot to see the character evolve from a princess without a bra to a general leading the Resistance. A woman for our times.
RIP Carrie Fisher. pic.twitter.com/hxY8iHzaiQ
— Sam Kalidi (@samkalidi) December 27, 2016
Related reading and viewing:
- Star Wars and Leia were such a big deal that I was apparently allowed to stay up to watch Carrie Fisher host Saturday Night Live in 1978. I remembered the tune and lyrics of the strange musical number perfectly.
- Fisher’s audition for Star Wars.
- Rolling Stone interview, July 21, 1983.
- Entertainment Weekly profile, 1990.
- Roasting George Lucas in 2005.
- “Star Wars Taught Me Everything,” a 1999 essay for Newsweek.
- “What I’ve Learned,” Esquire, 2002.
- New York Magazine interview, 2009.
- 20 questions with WebMD about addiction and biopolar disorder.
- Fisher wrote this 2012 essay on her first trip to the Oscars for Deadline.
- Fisher’s 2013 letter to Leia.
- Fisher lost weight for The Force Awakens, and she got tired of talking about it.
- Fisher interviewed The Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley for Interview magazine, and it’s funny as hell. Oct. 30, 2015.
- Rolling Stone, Dec. 9, 2015.
- Guardian profile, Dec. 14, 2015.
- 2016 NPR interview.
- Rolling Stone interview, Nov. 28, 2016.
- An advice column about living with bipolar disorder. The Guardian, Nov. 30, 2016.
- Carolyn Kellogg, the book editor of the Los Angeles Times, told a lovely little Carrie Fisher story on Facebook.
- Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post reminisced about meeting Fisher this May in Cannes.
- From the beginning, Fisher was happy that Princess Leia was a strong character.
- A photo gallery from Vanity Fair.
- There have been a lot of moving tributes to Fisher from the people who worked with her. Here is Mark Hamill’s statement.
- Carrie and her brother Todd as children.
There are also interesting stories about Carrie’s father, Eddie. As she pointed out, he too was bipolar and a drug addict.
- Two years before Star Wars came out, People wrote about her father Eddie Fisher’s attempt to revive his singing career after years of drug abuse. His relationship with Carrie and her mother is described.
- In 1990, Eddie went to rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic.
- In his ghostwritten 1999 autobiography — Been There, Done That — Eddie said drug use often left him unable to perform in the 1980s. Via Time Magazine: “‘It was either quit cocaine or quit performing,’ he says in the book. New paragraph. ‘So much for my career.'”
- Carrie had a few choice words for Eddie after he died in 2010.
- This Vanity Fair obit focuses on Fisher’s family.
A good tweet from Carrie:
Trump speaking his mind isn't refreshing, it's appalling. Coca Cola is refreshing…
— Carrie Fisher (@carrieffisher) November 6, 2016
A Q&A session:
Q: "If you could use the force in real life what would you do?"
Carrie Fisher: “I would make Trump go away" pic.twitter.com/0TN9ME3hC7
— Colin Jones (@colinjones) December 27, 2016
Don’t forget to watch When Harry Met Sally, which I saw for the umpteenth time a couple of days ago. I’m positive Fisher’s character of Marie is the best of the best friend roles in the rom-com genre. Watch her get out her Rolodex of single men the moment she finds out her friend Sally is single. There was no time to waste, she warned:
“The right man for you might be out there right now and if you don’t grab him, someone else will, and you’ll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that someone else is married to your husband.”
The late Nora Ephron wrote that movie. If there’s a writers’ heaven, Nora and Carrie are sitting down at Dorothy Parker’s round table, and the bon mots are flying.
UPDATED TO ADD: Carrie Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, died of a stroke at 84, a day after her daughter’s death. “She wanted to be with Carrie,” her son, Todd Fisher, said to Variety.
- Reynolds and Fisher discussed their relationship with Oprah in 2011.
- In May, Fisher spoke about doing a documentary — Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds — and her mother’s declining health.
- Carrie’s brother Todd said his mother didn’t die of a broken heart — she just wanted to be with Carrie.
- A clip from the documentary.
- Carrie’s daughter Billie Lourd appeared with Fisher and Reynolds at the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Awards.
- The story of a photo of Fisher as a child, watching her mother on stage.
- Debbie Reynolds’s interview with People magazine in 1988, when she was still with her third husband.
- Reynolds on Craig Ferguson’s show in April 2013
My daughter Carrie is beautiful as she looks down at one of LA's favorite delis. The whitefish is strong in this one https://t.co/IgCTLOYHxc
— Debbie Reynolds (@DebbieReynolds1) December 14, 2015
Fantastic post, Wendy. Thank you for this.
Catherine Gouker says
I don’t even know what to say anymore. Thank you for the post and the links as always. What Princess Leia meant for me as a child, even as an adult…. I’m so sad about this. On top of all the other sadness this year. ?
Sheila (of Ephemera) says
A lovely tribute, Wendy – I have been bawling my eyes out about this for a couple of days. My dad had a similar heart attack/stable (but brain-dead)/death trajectory and I had a feeling that’s what was happening with her. I adored feisty Leia and awesome Carrie. I have that same copy of “Postcards From the Edge”.
Yes, I saw a lot of people saying they were happy that she was stable, but I was alarmed that there was no mention of her communicating with her family :-(((
And now it seems her mom has had a stroke! I feel so terrible for her daughter, she’s very young to deal with two traumas at once.
UPDATED: Debbie has died. Poor Billie!!!!
Such tragic losses 🙁 This has been brutal, but your post was lovely.
Loved her comment re. Trump — brilliant as usual. She will be missed and so will Debbie.
Carrie and Gary forever!! <3
Gary must be so confused 🙁
As always, a beautiful tribute, Ms. Wendy. I appreciate all of the work that you put into all of your writing. So, thank you for the links and your own remembrances and the beautiful words for our Rebel Princess. Heartbroken because such a brilliant, funny, talented feminist icon has left us.
Too many talented people too soon! Did you see Todd Fisher’s lovely interview? http://www.popsugar.com/celebrity/Todd-Fisher-2020-Interview-December-2016-42913061