Carrie Fisher died today, December 27 2016, four days after suffering a heart attack while en route on a flight from London to Los Angeles. She was said to be in full cardiac arrest while aboard the aircraft, and was not attended by paramedics until roughly 15 minutes after the heart attack occurred. Her brother, Todd Fisher, told the press that the actress was in stable condition in ICU after the heart attack, but clearly whatever rally doctors and her family had hoped for did not materialize. Fisher reportedly wasn’t breathing for at least 10 minutes, and while CPR would have been performed on the aircraft, it can only do so much to prevent brain death.
Fisher was best known for her iconic performance as Princess Leia, and will be mourned by millions of people around the globe for that reason alone, but her career spanned a considerably broader range than many people realize. The daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, her first gig was the 1975 comedy Shampoo followed by Star Wars in 1977. She acted in The Blues Brothers, as well as films by Woody Allen and Jim Belushi and wrote a candid autobiography detailing her own struggles with drug addiction in 1987. She also played as a prominent supporting actress in When Harry Met Sally.
For 15 years, Fisher worked as a so-called “script doctor,” writing uncredited polishes of various films from 1991 – 2005, including The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Hook, Sister Act, The Wedding Singer and Coyote Ugly, and some of the dialog in the Star Wars prequels (the idea that these could’ve had even worse dialog than they did already is terrifying). She wrote multiple books, performed a one-woman play, and appeared in a number of roles across both television and film. I confess, until I sat down to write this story, I was unfamiliar with significant aspects of her work, apart from her film appearances. Leia remained the role she was best known for, and she reprised the character for the 2015 film The Force Awakens. She had completed shooting for Episode VIII (an earlier version of this story mistakenly stated she had not), but we don’t know if any role for her in Episode IX will be recast, written-out, or if the actress will be digitally inserted, similar to certain performances in the recently released Rogue One.
I’m not old enough to have seen the original Star Wars movies in theaters, but I do remember enthusiastically playing Star Wars with my brother and cousins in my grandparents’ backyard. He was Han, I played Luke and my girl-cousins took on the roles of Leia (willingly) and… Chewbacca (much less willingly). Our Millenium Falcon was a green Volvo 240 and I’ll admit to envying my brother’s replica of Han Solo’s powerful DL-44 blaster. The first line of the original movies that I explicitly remember copying in our backyard play, even if I was Luke (and with significant apologies to my younger cousin) was “Will somebody get this big walking carpet out of my way?” Even at six or seven, Princess Leia was cool.
I don’t pretend to know how much any actor truly sees themselves in a character they play, and I imagine it can be tiresome to be so beloved for a character that isn’t, you know, you. But Leia Organa and Carrie Fisher shared at least one trait: They were both bad-asses who called things like they saw them and weren’t afraid to fight for what they believed in. For Leia, that battle took the form of decades of resistance against the evil Galactic Empire and the First Order that rose in its place. For Fisher, the demons were more prosaic — drug abuse, a lifetime battling bipolar disorder, and the difficulties of being prominently thrust into the public spotlight at a relatively young age. She was open and candid about her struggles, often discussing them with humor without belittling their seriousness.
She is survived by her daughter, mother, and brother. She will be missed.
December 31, 2016
December 30, 2016