In honor Carrie Fisher and the opening of “The Last Jedi” later this week I decided to read all of Carrie’s memoirs and watch her one woman special “Wishful Drinking”. While I was on my “Carrie-binge” I threw in “Bright Lights” about her Hollywood upbringing and relationship with her mother Debbie Reynolds for good measure. Why didn’t I read any of her novels you ask? No time. I figured if I had to prioritize I’d work through the non-fiction offerings first (“The Princess Diarist”, “Shockaholic”, “Wishful Drinking”). I wanted to get the truest picture, an unfiltered and non-fictionalized Carrie. Perhaps I’ll tackle the novels at another time. Though I do wonder if “Postcards from the Edge” is truly fiction or thinly disguised non-fiction. A question for another time.
What did I learn? In short, I am even more saddened by her loss. As Yoda would say – a spark, was she! A self-admitted Star Wars junkie, I would have undoubtedly been entertained by her “The Last Jedi” promotional tour wherein her thoughts on the movie, the fandom, and celebrity culture would be on full display. I’m sure I would have cackled gleefully at her irreverent interviews, as I did through much of her “The Force Awakens” press tour. Sadly, no such opportunity exists. All we have now is what she left behind. Thankfully, there is some rich material here.
Carrie’s memoirs are very engaging. You feel like you are in the room talking with her. She writes in a very conversational, somewhat sardonic tone that is immediately identifiable if you have ever seen any interviews with her. If you haven’t I strongly suggest checking her out on YouTube. She’s not always a completely coherent interview but she is always compelling. It’s not my intent in this post to review all her memoirs and TV specials in-depth but to mention some common threads I couldn’t help but notice throughout.
• Unflinching honesty: Carrie didn’t hold back in her writing, interviews, and I suspect in her life. This is remarkably brave and refreshing. You got the sense she was unafraid of what people thought. This is not to say that she didn’t care. I think she did, but was not afraid of it. She was determined to be herself regardless of the cost.
• Humor that masks pain: Carrie was extremely witty. I laughed out loud at many descriptions of her life. Much of her upbringing was preposterous, and she admits as much. Within that humorous reflection though you can still feel the pain of a lonely and, at times, unstable upbringing. The hole left by her father was deep and clearly still felt even in recent interviews. For example, when asked by Ellen Degeneres in 2015 why she drank 16 Cokes a day Carrie’s response was that it was because her father was the Coke-a-Cola kid. I found this response illogical because (1) the health hazards of soda are well documented, (2) Eddie Fisher was the Coke spokesperson over 50 years ago, and (3) there is no rational reason anyone should consume 16 cans of soda in a day.
• A past that was ever present: For all her gifts, it had to be difficult to be Carrie Fisher. Her childhood was defined by scandal, early adulthood by Star Wars, and adulthood by mental illness. Once she managed to get her illness under control she shared her struggles with her unconventional childhood, fame, and illness with the world, often mining her personal history for entertainment value. I understand the impulse, Carrie led a fascinating life. Consequently, all of those colorful experiences, many likely very painful, were brought to the surface again and again. In the midst of this ever-repeating cycle the Star Wars franchise makes a triumphant return to the world’s stage. It had to be so disorienting. At times I wondered if Carrie would have been best by letting go of the past and moving forward. In her particular reality, though, that was impossible. Never has the phrase “the past is always present” rang so true to me. How does one lay to rest a past that refuses to die?
• All this and mental illness too: By the time she was twenty-nine Carrie had lived a life most of us could never even imagine. Her unconventional upbringing and instant stardom at nineteen would have been enough to throw many of us over the edge. But Carrie had another demon to conquer, Bipolar Disorder. She was diagnosed at a time when not a lot was known about the condition or how to effectively treat it. Her questionable behavior in the public eye likely can be attributed, at least partially, to self-medication in attempt to control the swirling emotions raging inside her. Sometimes I think it’s a small miracle she lived to 60.
And thank goodness, she did. Though her life may have been filled with challenges, the world is a far better place for her having been here. Through Princess Leia, Carrie encouraged millions of young girls (including yours truly) to imagine another kind of woman far beyond the likes of Cinderella; to be independent, courageous, and follow to their dreams. Carrie’s novels entertained the masses and her writing improved Hollywood movies. Her honesty about her struggles with mental illness and addiction inspired countless to seek help and began to chip away at the stigma associated with the disease. She crammed so much into her lifetime that it’s no wonder we lost her relatively early. But what a legacy to leave behind.
I’m pretty sure I’ll cry when I see her on screen for the last time this Friday when I go to see “The Last Jedi”. But when I go home and after my daughter is asleep, I’ll pour myself a nice glass of wine and whisper a toast to a life well-lived. We should all be so lucky to have such an impact.
PS: Read her memoirs and definitely see the television specials. You won’t be disappointed.
PPS: I am now also a fan of her mother Debbie Reyonlds. What a survivor!