While the world is mourning the loss of singer/actress/script-doctor/author Carrie Fisher, I beseech you all not to forget that Carrie did not end at Princess Leia. In sharing photos of Carrie as a young Princess Leia, let’s remember that she grew up into General Organa, and had a life marked by struggles that she fought to turn into good for others.
She spoke out against ageism in Hollywood. “Men don’t age better than women, they’re just allowed to age,” she retweeted last year. It wasn’t always easy, and like any human woman, she struggled with this. Rising above criticism for being a human in a time where the Fountain of Youth has not been discovered is difficult for anyone, much less a woman with a large fan base who continue to fantasize about a 27-year-old in a gold metal bikini who expect her to still look the same.
Let us honor her stance against ageism by acknowledging that she did age, and kicked a lot more ass by doing so.
It’s this older Carrie, an older Carrie, who had so much more that she taught us. It’s this older Carrie who encompasses the younger Carrie, this older Carrie who had not yet dealt with the full depth of problems that younger Carrie would come to face. Younger Carrie was always a strong woman on her own right, evidenced in how perfectly she portrayed Princess Leia as fierce and independent even in an era where women were still seen as much lesser than than today.
The Carrie we lost today had a life of great ups and great downs. She was born the child of a Hollywood golden couple, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. When she was just a toddler, her father left her mother, and Elizabeth Taylor became her step-mother. Carrie became a vociferous reader. After appearing in the Broadway, Irene, with her mother, Carrie’s schedule interfered with high school, and she dropped out. But it would soon lead to a role in a silly-sounding movie that her friend joked must have been named after her parents fighting.
Yes. Star Wars. Is there anything else that needs to be said about such a strong, kick-ass, take-no-prisoners princess who doesn’t know the meaning of backing down in the face of danger? There’s plenty, however, to be said about the Star Wars Holiday Special, which will live in infamy, but which will now likely be endeared to many.
The special held a heavy hint of what would come for Carrie. No number of takes would be enough to conceal the drug-use on the set. The cast looked stoned on pot, but were instead high on something sinister. Film reviewer Nathan Rabin described the special as “ultimately written and directed by a sentient bag of cocaine,” and he wouldn’t have been far from correct. By the time The Empire Strikes Back was rolling, cocaine was being used on the set, and Carrie was using the most.
This didn’t stop her from a couple of Broadway appearances in 1980, and having a cameo in The Blues Brothers. She choked on a Brussels sprout during filming. Thanks to Dan Aykroyd’s use of the Heimlich maneuver, she survived.
After achieving sobriety for a short time in 1985, she nearly died from an overdose, but not from cocaine. This was due to prescription narcotics and sleeping pills, both which are much easier to obtain than cocaine. After surviving that brush with death, Carrie went on to pen her first novel, Postcards from the Edge, which went on to be made into a movie of the same name starring Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, and Dennis Quaid. The story is semi-autobiographical in nature.
After this film, and around the time Carrie gave birth to her only child, daughter Billie Catherine Lourd, Carrie’s career took a turn. She didn’t quite leave acting. Oh, no, she’d never leave acting. She became a script doctor. Without her uncredited work, Hook and Sister Act would not have become what they did. They are now classics, and are an unknown part of her legacy. However, Carrie also worked on the dialog for the three Star Wars prequels.
When her good friend, R. Gregory Stevens, died in her home from a combination of cocaine and oxycodone, complicated by undiagnosed heart disease, Carrie dove back into the world of drugs, though she had been self-medicating her bipolar disorder since at least 2001.
In 2008, her outspokenness on addiction and mental health ticked up, and she found a new audience who saw her as a role model for recovery, honestly, and helping raise awareness of these issues. Combined with her open agnosticism, Carrie was awarded the Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from Harvard College and the Harvard Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics for “her forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness, and agnosticism have advanced public discourse on these issues with creativity and empathy.”
Carrie never shied away from tackling her demons and never concealed her flaws. As she aged, she became bolder, became more of the General Organa she still is. In her own human way, she’s led a resistance against stigma, and became a beacon of hope for those fighting their own demons, whether drugs, mental illness, or body issues, and showed us that we can be flawed, but still be awesome people. She showed that there is life and humor after walking a hard road.
Though death’s third attempt to take her from us ended her life too soon, when she still had so much she had left to do on this earth, she has not been taken from us, not as long as we remember what she had to teach.
Be in peace, Carrie.