I’ve always steered away from writing obituaries for lost stars. Not because I have felt a lack of sorrow, in fact this year has been akin to a G.R.R Martin style family gathering filled with pain and tears with Alan Rickman being one that particularly shook me. But more to do with the distance involved in favouring a star. Although our actors can delight and enthral us, therefore leading us to feel an emotional attachment to them that weighs heavily upon their passing, it is an unavoidable pitfall when you only really know these bright lights through the cold detachment of the screen. You laugh with them, cry with them and love with them but it is all just a character, and furthermore although we may see them repeatedly being interviewed and perhaps even sharing their innermost thoughts on Twitter, Facebook et al, they are still truly elusive. It is hard to grieve for someone whom we have never truly known, touched or met. We can respect all that they gave and left behind but true grief is beyond our grasp. Not to mention I’ve always felt a certain fear in being able to adequately convey the depth of their achievements, but that is more a hesitance around my skills as a low-key blogger.
There are some that cross over this barrier though. Some who reveal an honesty in their media appearances, or whose work came to us in a time of emotional vulnerability. It is telling that those who wept the most over stars such as Bowie or Prince did so due to the power of their music reaching them in times of darkness, whether in the depths of puberty or the loss of someone close. Nostalgia is a fiercely powerful entity. For me Carrie Fisher represented just that.
Upon hearing of Carrie’s passing on December 27th, after a unexpected heart attack on a flight back from London a few days earlier, I felt a surprising blast of loss. Carrie was a gifted performer, script doctor and author, her wit and frank honesty providing a refreshing antidote to the sycophantic carefully managed performance management of Hollywood celebrities. She was immensely candid about the struggles she faced. Combating depression, addiction and the intense pressure of being in the spotlight with strength and formidable ferocity. You only need to watch or listen to any interview she made on any subject to see how deft she was at balancing a terrifically witty verbosity with an emotional upfrontness that was inherently endearing. This was even more evident in her phenomenal writing. Penning a number of semi and autobiographical novels, most recently in The Princess Diarist (one that detailed the not entirely shocking reveal of her affair with Harrison Ford), that beautifully portrayed her inner struggles with a wonderful grasp of entertaining anecdotes mixed amongst the pain.
Some may not be aware of the repeated script doctoring work she completed throughout her career either. Helping to beef up the interplay between characters with her affinity for clever wordplay noticeable in films as varied as Hook, Sister Act and The Wedding Singer. She also famously made numerous amendments to the Star Wars sequel scripts, particularly in The Empire Strikes Back beefing up the flirty foreplay of her scenes with Ford. We must also mention her other roles outside of our favourite movie princess (more on that later), from When Harry met Sally through to The Blues Brothers via The Burbs. She was always a warm presence, able to be equal parts sexy, powerful and funny with nary an effort. Very much like her in the flesh. Most recently in the Channel 4 comedy Catastrophe she was a delightful concoction in a role that probably felt the most like actual Carrie Fisher the person!
It is in the one iconic role of her lifetime that she will most definitely be fondly remembered, and indeed the one that truly inspired me to write this piece. As the feisty, capable and commanding Princess Leia she became a true feminine icon. This is the key to understanding her power as an actress and individual. Carrie always displayed a noticeable feminist streak but not one of the man-hating ill-tempered variety, rather that of a woman who knew her own mind and whom knew the power of speaking the truth is eminently stronger than burning her bra in feeble protest. She could go toe to toe with any man, even the terrifying immensity of Darth Vader (yes I’m aware he is a fictional character but the image of her verbally scalding him at the start of Ep.IV is hugely potent). She was not afraid to tackle the inherent sexism that existed and still exists within Hollywood with biting incisiveness.
It was in Leia that lay my first true movie crush. Gazing my eyes upon her in the 1997 special editions (I know they aren’t the true Star Wars but they were the first versions I saw) as a reserved 8yr old boy I found myself unusually enraptured at this vivacious kick ass heroine. Of course she was a beautiful creature, those porcelain features a portal to a young mans first opportunity to swoon. But it was the way she held herself around her male co-stars, we sometimes forget that she is the only real major female character, that ability to make them feel small with an arch of her brow or a sardonic put down. As much as Vader, Tarkin and their ilk attempt to put the fear into her, Leia never appears phased. Only when faced with the loss of her home world do the vulnerabilities show (and let’s face it something all of us would mourn for) but that only strives to make her more captivating. It’s not hard to see why Luke and Han fall so desperately infatuated with her, although thankfully the Luke side of things is played down for obvious reasons.
Continuing and slyly evolving the character in the following sequels, she even managed to make the uncomfortably gratuitous skimpy outfit worn in Return of the Jedi a tool for female empowerment. Although it is an outfit designed to make her a sex object by a gross (male) space creature, she utilises the male proclivities to secretly embed herself close enough to turn the tables and murder her captor. A far-fetched notion maybe, but one Carrie Fisher talked about herself. Princess Leia held a special place in my heart but furthermore so did Carrie herself. She was truly Hollywood royalty and a phenomenal Force across film, literature and mental health awareness.
In a turn of events that makes all this situation ever more upsetting is that her mother, Debbie Reynolds, suffered a fatal stroke but a day after Carrie’s passing. Her final words of wanting to be with Carrie are unbearably moving, and a reflection on the indomitable power of parental love. No parent should ever have to suffer the loss of a child, it is one of life’s greatest cruelties and it appears this was all too much for Debbie Reynolds.
I must confess to not being overly familiar with her work. Apart from a wonderful turn in the musical masterpiece Singin in the Rain in which she captivated Gene Kelly and her audience with a performance of grace and playfulness. Although she once described the film as being one of the two hardest things she’s ever done, the other being childbirth. A sign that Carrie inherited her acerbic candidness from her mother. Reynolds featured in dozens more, whilst balancing her movie work with humanitarian endeavours. Her relationship with her daughter was similar to their natures, formidable, strong, full of all too human tensions and acute vulnerabilities. Their bond was palpable and makes their passing so close to one another desperately sad but also comforting. If one believes in the notion of an afterlife the fact that mother and daughter can rest with each other is a warm one. Even though Carrie herself may probably have found all this delightfully satirical, her mum upstaging her to the bitter end.
My heart goes out to the family left behind and I hope they can take comfort in the fact that they left the world with a legacy of joy, humour and love.
They are with the Force! The Force is with them!!