Written by: Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
I really, really don’t want to write this tribute.
The fact is that 2016 has become the Year. Of. Death. (I’ve had to write many many tributes this past year for SEM). The fact is that George Michael died on Christmas Day. The fact is that it’s the last week in December and all I want to do is sleep and read.
I can’t, though.
Because Carrie Fisher died.
It wasn’t a surprise when her death was reported. She’d had a massive heart attack and it was touch and go. Still when I found out I started swearing, feeling so utterly angry and powerless. I adored Carrie Fisher. I wanted to be Carrie Fisher. She was always the one with the perfect comeback–her books made her the Dorothy Parker of our times.
But of course it wasn’t just her writing.
When I was five, I saw a boy named Luke Skywalker trying to save a princess. Only this wasn’t any namby pamby princess. This was Princess Leia Organa, who kicked serious ass. She talked back to Darth Vader (at the time, she didn’t know he was her father) carried a gun, and fought with the boys. She also flirted with Han Solo, calling him a Nerf Herder. She told him she loved him before he was frozen in carbonate. His response? I know. How Hanleia. How romantic. It wasn’t really a surprise last month Fisher wrote about her affair with Harrison Ford during the first Star Wars. After all, they were smoldering together.
She always was Princess Leia, something she came to embrace. She dressed up as the princess when she hosted Saturday Night Live. She also did the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, where she, to her everlasting regret, sang. Yes, she sang. Often she sang with her mother Debbie Reynolds during Reynolds’ cabaret act. Someday this act might end up on YouTube, and I know it would be wonderful to watch.
She was born to Hollywood royalty–her parents Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher were the golden couple of Hollywood. They broke up when he began an affair and then married, Elizabeth Taylor. Fisher would later write she never remembered Taylor being an actual stepmother to her; visits with Eddie were infrequent. However, Taylor always kept her former stepdaughter in her extended family. When Carrie got an invite to Taylor’s 60th birthday celebration at Disneyland, she called Reynolds and asked if it was okay to go. Reynolds said yes. “Go for the material,” she told her daughter. Years later Carrie wrote a TV movie for the two women called These Old Broads.
Carrie’s life wasn’t easy, and she was open about it: Drug use. Being bipolar. Her ill-fated marriage with Paul Simon, which inspired these lyrics from the classic song “Graceland”: “She comes back to tell me she’s gone/As if I didn’t know that/As if I didn’t know my own bed/As if I’d never noticed/The way she brushed her hair from her forehead/And she said losing love/Is like a window in your heart/Everybody sees you’re blown apart/ Everybody sees the wind blow.” She showed people the windows in her heart. She did it with writing.
She wrote Postcards from the Edge, a funny bio novel about Suzanne Vale, an actress who overdosed and is now in rehab. The book started with this line: “Maybe I shouldn’t have given the guy who pumped my stomach my phone number, but who cares? My life is over anyway.” Funny and shocking, it was Carrie Fisher to the bone. She later wrote a sequel called The Best Awful, when Suzanne has a relapse several years after her marriage broke up. The reason? He was gay. Again, it was true to life: Carrie’s relationship to boyfriend Bryan Lourd broke up when he revealed he was gay. She turned material into gold.
The past few years Carrie turned her attention to writing essay collections, describing her electroshock therapy to deal with her bipolar disorder, her mixed feelings about her father, dealing with Star Wars fans and her sadness that she wasn’t totally sober as her daughter Billie was growing up. Last month I went to a bookstore, tired and burned out from grad school. I knew I needed a good fun read. There was a display of The Princess Diarist, Carrie’s new book. I bought it without thinking. And I loved it.
When Fisher’s death was confirmed, my Facebook feed was flooded. I knew I wasn’t the only one who loved her. Who could hate Carrie Fisher? She was Princess Leia, Debbie’s daughter, the funniest woman in the room.
The force was with you, Carrie.
But you always knew that, didn’t you?