On December 23, 2016, Carrie Fisher went into cardiac arrest while on board a flight to Los Angeles. The heart attack she suffered proved to be fatal; Fisher passed away in a nearby hospital at the age of 60.
Carrie Fisher was born in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California on October 21, 1956. Fisher’s parents were both fixtures in Hollywood; her father, Eddie Fisher was a pop-singer while her mother, Debbie Reynolds, starred in Singin’ in the Rain. Reflecting on her birth, Fisher described how her mother and father were both unconscious and how, consequently, she “arrived virtually unattended. And [she has] been trying to make up for that fact ever since.” Undoubtedly, Fisher succeeded and, throughout her life, shook the world around her.
Fisher broke into the Hollywood scene at a young age. At fifteen, she played a debutante in the Broadway show “Irene”, a musical that was featured in Ms. Reynolds’s Las Vegas nightclub. After the role, Ms. Fisher took a brief break to study acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. However, it was not long before she returned to Hollywood. At seventeen, Fisher made her film debut in the comedy Shampoo and, two years later, she famously played the role of Princess Leia in George Lucas’ Star Wars. Fisher was not the ordinary princess: commanding rebel bases, rescuing Han Solo, founding and serving as General of the Resistance against the first order — she served as a symbol of female empowerment. Later in life, Fisher would reprise the role in Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Without a doubt, the Star Wars movie franchise has had a dramatic influence on, and continues to shape, the fabric of popular culture. But make no mistake, if all you know about Fisher is her role as Princess Leia, then you have more digging to do. After Star Wars catapulted Fisher into fame, her acting career took off. Fisher continued on to star in The Blues Brothers, Hannah and Her Sisters, The ‘Burbs, The Man with One Red Shoe and When Harry Met Sally, among others. She also partied with the Rolling Stones, hosted Saturday Night Live and had a fling with and short marriage to Dan Aykroyd and Paul Simon, respectively.
However, Fisher’s life was not all glitz and glamour. Fisher reported that she began to smoke marijuana as early as thirteen, sometimes with her father, and that by the time she was in her early twenties, she had become wrapped up in cocaine and LSD. Throughout her acting career, this drug usage continued. Specifically, after filming Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, Fisher nearly overdosed. This experience served as a wake up call for Fisher, prompting her to check into a rehabilitation program in Los Angeles. Her near overdose also inspired her, in part, to write Postcards from the Edge, an extremely successful semi-autobiographical novel that was later turned into a film, starring Meryl Streep. After this success, Fisher continued to write, giving the world works such as Wishful Drinking, Delusions of Grandma, Shockaholic and Surrender the Pink. What was special about Fisher was that she was one of the first voices to openly acknowledge addiction and, coupled with the unique humor that she brought to her writing, she changed the way that society viewed the illness.
On top of drug usage issues, Fisher also suffered from severe depression and was officially diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in 1985, a mental illness that affects approximately 2.7% of Americans. Not letting her illness define her, Fisher utilized the fame afforded to her through her acting career to become a champion of mental health. When discussing her illness, she once commented, “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.” Fisher leveraged her past to change the future; she openly communicated her struggles and, through this discussion, helped to de-stigmatize mental health illnesses. Fisher offered us powerful words: “You have to get help. It’s not a neat illness. It doesn’t go away… I’m not embarrassed” and “Stay afraid, but do it anyway”. Our society desperately needed a person like Fisher. Her boldness and courage in the face of her illnesses, and her ability to communicate her story, will leave a lasting impact on our world.
So yes, Carrie Fisher was a double-bunned, blaster pistol wielding badass. Yet Fisher will endure as something more powerful than a Princess. The humorous icon’s legacy will be one of breaking boundaries in the realm of addiction and mental health. She will be remembered as a star, both on and off the screen; as someone who brought grit to Hollywood. Carrie Fisher exposed her own imperfections in the name of something greater. She lived life by her own terms.