The Star Wars princess who chronicled Hollywood’s excesses
Carrie Fisher 1956–2016
Carrie Fisher liked to say she was “born famous.” The daughter of 1950s Hollywood royalty—her mother was actress Debbie Reynolds, her father the singer Eddie Fisher—she was just 2 hours old when she was first photographed for Life magazine. Fisher became a superstar in her own right after being cast as Princess Leia, the funny, feisty, and fearless heroine of George Lucas’ sci-fi epic Star Wars. The actress was never particularly fond of the character. She described Leia’s bun-tied hairstyle as a “hair-don’t instead of a hairdo,” and once asked, “Who wears that much lip gloss into battle?” But Fisher, who died at age 60 last month after suffering a heart attack, understood that for many of the films’ young female fans, Leia was a symbol of empowerment. She was handy with a blaster pistol and was every bit the equal of heroes Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. “I was not a damsel in distress,” she said. “I was a distressing damsel.”
Born in Beverly Hills, Calif., Fisher was 2 years old when her parents divorced following her father’s affair with Elizabeth Taylor, said The Times (U.K.). “As a child, Fisher immersed herself in books and writing poetry, but by 13 she was smoking pot.” At 15, she dropped out of high school and took a role as a chorus girl on Broadway. Fisher made her big-screen debut opposite Warren Beatty in the 1975 comedy Shampoo, and the following year beat “roughly two dozen actresses,” including Sissy Spacek and Jodie Foster, to the role of Leia, said The New York Times. The first three Star Wars films— A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983)—were “a financial and cultural phenomenon,”and Fisher found herself in “an uneasy limelight.” She had a three-month affair with her married co-star Harrison Ford, had a tempestuous one-year marriage to singer-songwriter Paul Simon, and became addicted to cocaine and other drugs.
After a spell in rehab in 1985, Fisher focused on her “fledgling career as an author,” said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). Her debut novel, 1987’s Postcards From the Edge, was a caustic, comical tale about an actress recovering from drug addiction; her second, 1990’s Surrender the Pink, “drew on her on-off relationship with Paul Simon, which went on for more than a decade after their 1984 divorce.” For all her literary success, Fisher still couldn’t escape her demons. She suffered several drug relapses, and received treatment for bipolar disorder.
Despite her often chaotic personal life, Fisher rarely stopped working. She adapted Postcards From the Edge into a screenplay, which in 1990 became a box-office hit starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. “The movie led Fisher to yet another career as one of Hollywood’s top script doctors,” said The Washington Post. She punched up the dialogue of dozens of films, including Hook (1991), Sister Act (1992), and The Wedding Singer (1998). She wrote three “unvarnished memoirs” and last year reunited with Ford and other members of the original Star Wars cast in The Force Awakens. The movie’s producers pressured her to lose 35 pounds for the film. “They don’t want to hire all of me—only about three-quarters,” Fisher said of the request. “They might as well say, ‘Get younger,’ because that’s how easy it is.”