As a child, I think Princess Leia may have been my first love.
If, like me, you grew up in the generation of little kids whose first movie going experience was Star Wars, then it was hard not to fall in love with the princess and by extension Carrie Fisher. How could I not have loved her? Her visage was splashed all over my bedroom in the form of toys, posters, books and a bedspread with matching curtains. Her hair was always in those silly bread rolls and her outfit was always silky white even after spending an afternoon mucking around in the Death Star’s automatic trash dumpster. Through George Lucas’ trilogy she played her most famous character, an open-faced, brash and out-spoken princess. She called Chewbacca a “walking carpet.” She told Peter Cushing that he had a “foul stench.” She called Han Solo a “Nerf-Herder” (whatever that is). You don’t get that in most fairy tales. Carrie Fisher was many things, but dull was never one of them. Her passing on Tuesday morning is ever-greater when you realize what a wide birth of great humor she had in the midst of living a life that seemed dead-set against it. Despite all she had been through, Carrie Fisher was funny, witty, self-effacing and, of course, charming to the last.
In all of Hollywood, you can never find one person who lived a more textbook show business life then Carrie Fisher. She was literally born into it, the daughter of show biz parents who were not exactly small potatoes. Her mother is Debbie Reynolds. Her father was Eddie Fisher. She was born in Beverly Hills. Her stepmother was Elizabeth Taylor (and previously Reynolds’ best friend). Her first husband was Paul Simon and her second was Bryan Lourd, a Hollywood agent. You don’t get more showbiz than that. But then came the other side. She spun her life into enough personal issues, bad marriages, mental health issues, weight problems and drug addictions to fill ten tell-all books . . . yet, she laughed about it.
In the wake of Star Wars she turned her well-publicized addictions and weight issues into her other great talent, she became a writer. Her life was right there on the page. In dealing with her mother, she wrote “Postcards from the Edge.” In dealing with her addictions, she wrote “Wishful Drinking,” which she turned into a successful one-woman show. In her inability to pry herself away from Princess Leia, she published “The Princess Diarist.” But she never seemed bitter. When asked about it, she always seemed to respond with a great amount of humor. She was bipolar and joked in “Wishful Drinking” that “I’m actually in the Abnormal Psychology textbook. Obviously my family is so proud. Keep in mind though, I’m a PEZ dispenser and I’m in the abnormal Psychology textbook. Who says you can’t have it all?”
But nothing in her show business private life looms larger than the role of a feisty, freedom fighting princess from a doomed planet who falls reluctantly into the arms of a scoundrel and aids in securing freedom to the galaxy. It was a role she wrestled to keep – she famously joked that she spent the entire Star Wars shoot convinced that the producers would think she was too fat and quickly replace her with Jodie Foster. The film shocked the world, becoming a $700 million worldwide phenomenon and ultimately an act that Fisher found hard to follow.
Her film career outside of Star Wars didn’t exactly yield a string of classics. Remember Under the Rainbow? The Man With One Red Shoe? Garbo Talks? Drop Dead Fred? For a time, she seemed to slip into the best friend role in films like Hannah and her Sisters and When Harry Met Sally. Yet, the role of the princess was always calling her back. She wrote extensively about it, most recently in “The Princess Diarist” in which she reflected back on the bizarre phenomenon of Star Wars: “Movies were meant to stay on the screen, flat and large and colorful, gathering you up into their sweep of story, carrying you rollicking along to the end, then releasing you back into your unchanged life. But this movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theater, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected to it.”
Fisher stayed “connected to it” right up to the end. Last year she returned to her most famous role in the very first Lucas-less Star Wars adventure quizzically titled The Force Awakens (her final line “May the Force Be With You” will now forever be the film’s most poignant moment). But her performance never seemed like a cash grab or a publicity stunt. She seemed dedicated to it. When most actors try and distance themselves from their iconic roles, Fisher would find peace with the character. Larry King once asked her if she liked the princess. “I have her over sometimes,” Fisher said, “She’s a little bitchy, you know.” She returns to the role one last time next Christmas for Star Wars Episode VIII. Most of her scenes have already been filmed. That’s going to be a tough ride.
Yet, Carrie Fisher’s most impressive performance was, and always will be, Carrie Fisher herself. She was many things but she was always remarkably herself. She laughed at herself even when her mental and physical health seemed at their darkest. Yet, she never wallowed in self pity. “No motive is pure,” she said, “No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”