Obituary: Carrie Fisher

Role as Princess Leia in ‘Star Wars’ outshone her other achievements as an actor, author and screenwriter

 

Carrie Fisher, the actress, author and screenwriter who brought a rare combination of nerve, grit and hopefulness to her most indelible role, as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movie franchise, has died, aged 60.

After her Star Wars success, Fisher, the daughter of pop singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, went on to use her perch among Hollywood royalty to offer wry commentary in her books on the paradoxes and absurdities of the entertainment industry.

Star Wars, released in 1977, turned her overnight into an international movie star. The film, written and directed by George Lucas, travelled around the world, breaking box-office records. It proved to be the first instalment of a blockbuster series.

Fisher established Princess Leia as a damsel who could very much deal with her own distress, whether facing down the villainy of the dreaded Darth Vader or the romantic interests of the roguish smuggler Han Solo.

Wielding blaster pistols, piloting futuristic vehicles and, to her occasional chagrin, wearing strange hairdos and a revealing metal bikini, she reprised the role in three more films – The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, Return of the Jedi in 1983 and, 32 years later, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by which time Leia had become a hard-bitten general.

Lucasfilm said Fisher had completed her work in an as-yet-untitled eighth episode of the main Star Wars saga, which is scheduled to be released in 2017.

Offscreen, Fisher was open about her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She channelled her struggles with depression and substance abuse into fiercely comic works, including the semiautobiographical novel Postcards From the Edge and the one-woman show Wishful Drinking, which she turned into a memoir.

Carrie Frances Fisher was born on October 21st, 1956, in Beverly Hills, California. She was the first child of her highly visible parents (they later had a son, Todd), and said in Wishful Drinking that, while her mother was under anesthetic delivering her, her father fainted.

“So when I arrived,” Fisher wrote, “I was virtually unattended! And I have been trying to make up for that fact ever since.”

In 1959, Reynolds divorced Eddie Fisher in the wake of his affair with Elizabeth Taylor, whom he married that same year.

Any semblance of a normal childhood was impossible for Fisher. At 15, she played a debutante in the Broadway musical Irene, which starred her mother, and appeared in Reynolds’s Las Vegas nightclub act. At 17, Fisher made her first movie, Shampoo (1975), Hal Ashby’s satire of Nixon-era politics and the libidinous Los Angeles culture of the time.

She was one of roughly two dozen young actresses considered for the role of Princess Leia in Lucas’s marathon casting sessions for Star Wars.

Star Wars became a financial and cultural phenomenon, launching more movies and a merchandising machine that splashed Fisher’s likeness on all manner of action figures and products while casting her into an uneasy limelight.

She partied with the Rolling Stones during the making of The Empire Strikes Back, hosted Saturday Night Live and had romantic relationships with Dan Aykroyd and Paul Simon. She and Simon had a marriage that lasted less than a year, and he was inspired to write his song Hearts and Bones about their time together. In The Princess Diarist, she admitted that during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she and Harrison Ford (who was married at the time) had an affair.

Fisher acknowledged taking drugs such as LSD and Percodan throughout the 1970s and 1980s and later said that she was using cocaine while making The Empire Strikes Back.

In 1985, after filming a role in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, she had a nearly fatal drug overdose. She had her stomach pumped and checked herself into a rehab programme. Those experiences later became grist for her caustic, comic novel Postcards from the Edge. The book was later made into a movie. Released in 1990, it starred Meryl Streep as Suzanne and Shirley MacLaine as her movie-star mother.

On film, Fisher also played the best friend of Meg Ryan’s title character in the 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. On television, she played satirical versions of herself on shows such as Sex and the City and The Big Bang Theory. She had a recurring role on the British comedy Catastrophe.

She is survived by her brother, Todd; her daughter, Billie Lourd; and her half sisters, Joely Fisher and Tricia Leigh Fisher, the daughters of Eddie Fisher and Connie Stevens.

New York Times syndication