“No matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra,” wrote Carrie Fisher in her memoir Wishful Drinking. On December 17, 2016, 60-year-old Carrie Fisher died, and while the cause of death is inconclusive, it was likely caused by complications from a heart attack she suffered just four days prior. Fisher was best known for her work as Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga and appeared in such well-known movies as The Blues Brothers , When Harry Met Sally, and Shampoo. While Fisher’s talents certainly shone on screen, perhaps her largest impact was in the world of mental health. Fisher used her celebrity platform to debunk negative stigmas surrounding different mental illnesses, particularly bipolar disorder, which Fisher said she struggled with for her entire life. “I am mentally ill,” Fisher told ABC News, “I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”
Her mother, the legendary actress Debbie Reynolds, died from a stroke just one day after Fisher—though many believe it more accurate to say she died of a broken heart. Fisher and her mother were very close; their homes were next to each other in the same compound just outside of Beverly Hills, California. Reynolds was known for her performances in Singin’ in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, among many others. Trained at the highly regarded MGM studios, Reynolds was one of old Hollywood’s most cherished sweethearts. She had quite an affinity for the industry she was in and spent the majority of her fortune on collecting Hollywood’s most coveted artifacts; Judy Garland’s ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz rest just above her fireplace.
Last Saturday, HBO premiered its documentary feature Bright Lights, which follows Fisher and Reynolds through the year 2015. The documentary was meant to air in the summer, but Fisher and Reynolds’ recent deaths pushed the channel to rush its debut. This piece is as strong a testament as any to the charming and striking qualities of each woman and the candor with which they always spoke and acted. Bright Lights takes viewers through the struggles Fisher faced with taking care of her mother, mental illness, and drug abuse. Her brother recounts times when they would smoke cigarettes and marijuana together, but when he would stop, she always kept going. The divorce of Debbie Reynolds and Fisher’s father, actor and 1950s pop singer Eddie Fisher, particularly affected Carrie, and she credits this time in her life as the first time she began noticing her manic depressive tendencies. Reynolds remembers this shift in personality, when she saw Fisher transform. “She had two very distinct personalities,” said Reynolds of her daughter, in HBO’s Bright Lights. This led to Fisher’s rejection of the classic ideals which Reynolds represented in Hollywood. “I guess she doesn’t want to be Eddie and she doesn’t want to be Debbie,” Reynolds says in Bright Lights, “she wants to be Carrie. So, she’ll do it her way.”
Fisher seemed to be the source of much worry to her mother during her adolescence, but in their older age, that relationship turned on its head; Fisher found herself on edge much of the time, concerned for her mother, who continued to tour the country performing in big acts. Reynolds insisted on performing through much turmoil both in her emotional and physical lives—family struggles and frequent sickness often threatened Reynolds’ ability to perform. It wasn’t until the age of 83 that Reynolds stopped touring, and even so she never officially retired. Reynolds was committed to show business and insisted that a life without it was not one she wanted to live.
In her adulthood, Fisher accompanied Reynolds on tour and performed in many of her shows. Her constant close proximity to her mother encouraged a relationship much closer to friendship than mother-daughter. Fisher experienced more frequent manic depressive episodes toward the end of her life due to her constant worry for her mother.
The entertainment industry has paid tribute to the two women, honoring them during award ceremonies such as the Golden Globes, and their families have held memorial services at their former home in Beverly Hills.
These two women soldiered on in the face of strife and struggle, both in their personal lives and in the industry. Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds will be remembered as two of Hollywood’s greatest talents.
Bright Lights is available to watch on HBO Go.
Featured image courtesy of US Magazine.