Carrie Fisher died today. She suffered a heart attack on Christmas Eve. I thought she was recovering, because this morning the news reported that she was stable. We lost her anyway.
Carrie Fisher will mainly be remembered for playing Princess Leia Organa, and rightfully so. She was young and beautiful when Star Wars was filmed. Fisher was my first female action hero on the big screen. She was brave, smart, tough-talking and practical, and she could handle a blaster like a pro. Plus, she had the admiration of two of the most handsome men I had ever seen at the ripe old age of seven.
Star Wars was an enormous, unstoppable, worldwide phenomenon, and she was a big part of it. But she was also a brilliant author and talented performer. My hope is that she will also be remembered for her many achievements in this galaxy, not the one far, far away. (I will also say that tuning into CNN and watching two male talking heads dissect how she looked in a metal bikini in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was somewhat nausea-inducing.)
Carrie Fisher published her first book, Postcards from the Edge, in 1987. It’s a novel that’s a barely concealed autobiography about her struggle to stay viable in Hollywood after recovering from drug addiction, getting older and burning too many bridges. She shocked the world with Postcards from the Edge, because no one, especially outside Hollywood, knew she possessed such a biting wit and flair with words. Fisher and Nichols adapted Postcards from the Edge, which became a bestseller, into a movie.
She followed Postcards with Surrender the Pink, about a New York City woman’s sexual awakening. She continued to write novels that explored her own experiences as an aging actress in Hollywood. More and more she was called on to write movies, rather than act in them. When I worked for a casting director in Hollywood in the ’90s, I remember my boss and her assistant talking about Carrie Fisher as a script doctor. I was suitably impressed that she had made the transition from actress to respected writer.
Only weeks ago, Fisher published another book, titled The Princess Diarist. It’s a tell-all about filming Star Wars, the criticism she received for her looks, and her not-a-secret-anymore affair with Harrison Ford, who was married at the time. She hit the talk show circuit to promote the book. In fact, we just saw her on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where she was honest, acerbic and unapologetic.
Robot Chicken and Family Guy
Actresses are known for egos the size of the Hollywood Bowl, but Carrie Fisher found a humility that served her well. She was humble enough to poke fun at herself and her iconic image as Princess Leia, something for which I admired her.
She played Angela, Peter’s boss, on Family Guy. She was fantastic as his desperate, pathetic boss. The cartoon’s character frequently talked about issues Carrie had struggled with, like alcoholism. Occasionally, Angela even made a reference to fanboys or Star Wars.
She really parodied herself on Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II, when she played Princess Leia. She got to say all the things she probably wanted to say while she was filming the movies. Nasty things. It was hilarious. She could have easily kept her turn as Princess Leia precious, and taken offense at anyone who wanted to make fun of her. But she turned the whole thing around and did it herself.
The first time I saw Carrie Fisher as someone other than Princess Leia, it was a bit of a shock. Please remember, I was 7 years-old when Star Wars premiered, so the image of Carrie Fisher wearing a diaphanous white gown and Danishes on the sides of her head was permanently burned into my memory. So when she starred in When Harry Met Sally, looking like a normal person, I was a bit disoriented. To top off my disillusionment, she was funny! She was funny enough to be nominated for an American Academy Award for Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture.
Carrie Fisher had a brilliant mind. I will miss her insight her wit and her beautiful voice.
— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) December 27, 2016
Lots of actresses who play roles in sci fi or fantasy movies or TV shows tend to stick to those kinds of roles. They’re comfortable and familiar, and I’m sure they get paid a ton to do them. But Carrie Fisher didn’t want to be pigeonholed. I imagine she was offered a slew of sci fi roles. I also imagine it was difficult to convince directors to cast her in regular ol’ comedies and dramas.
Sure, she had already appeared in Hannah and Her Sisters and The ‘Burbs, but those were fairly low-profile movies. Having Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally gave the movie the kind of Hollywood cred a different actress couldn’t have. It was like watching an inside joke or hanging with the cool kids. When Harry Met Sally was a pop culture phenomenon. And there she was, smack in the middle again, although, in a smaller role, which I’m sure she preferred after the attention Star Wars brought. She continued the trend with funny performances in Soapdish and This Is My Life.
She parodied herself again on 30 Rock in “Rosemary’s Baby.” She played Rosemary Howard, who had been a great TV writer and Liz Lemon’s idol. Liz realizes, however, that Rosemary is now pathetic. Liz winds up looking at Rosemary’s life as an object lesson.
Fisher, again, played a washed-up gal from Hollywood, tongue firmly in cheek. She swanned around so well that she earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.
In a statement to TIME, Fey said, “Carrie Fisher meant a lot to me. Like many women my age, Princess Leia occupies about sixty percent of my brain at any given time. But Carrie’s honest writing and her razor-sharp wit were an even greater gift. I feel so lucky that I got to meet her. I’m very sad she is gone.”
So are we all.
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Header photo: Gage Skidmore