Carrie Fisher, the actress, author and stage performer who forever changed what it meant to be Hollywood royalty, died Tuesday at age 60, Mashable has confirmed.
Fisher suffered a heart attack Friday at the end of a long flight from London to Los Angeles. She was hospitalized and said to have been in stable condition. On Tuesday, her family issued the following statement:
“It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother Carrie Fisher passed away at 8:55 this morning. … She was loved by the world and she will be missed profoundly. Our entire family thanks you for your thoughts and prayers.”
Fisher was most famous for her role as Princess (later General) Leia in four blockbuster Star Wars films, but almost as famous for how much she longed to escape the iconic character.
Though she eventually made peace with being stuck in Leia’s orbit, she succeeded in becoming a stellar object in her own right. She battled her way through an incredible amount of heartache and pain (divorce, depression, alcoholism, addiction, bipolar disorder), but found catharsis in sharing it all freely with the world and making us laugh along with her.
While some Star Wars luminaries struggled with their next acts, Fisher firmly established herself as a novelist and screenwriter (most notably, her roman a clef Postcards from the Edge), as a fine dramatic and comedic actor (Hannah and Her Sisters, When Harry Met Sally) and as a delightful raconteur (with a one-woman show and HBO special Wishful Drinking).
Witty, honest and always acerbic, she had a quip for every occasion and a raw vulnerability that won her millions of fans inside the Star Wars world and out of it.
Fisher was just 19 when she first played the princess in George Lucas’ space epic. It wasn’t her first role. The daughter of Hollywood legends Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, her life was all drama from the beginning.
When she was two, her father divorced her mother to marry Elizabeth Taylor, causing a national scandal. When Reynolds’ next husband embezzled her life savings, it was a tragedy.
From a young age, Fisher loved escaping into literature, but she increasingly had to leave the books behind. She didn’t graduate high school because she was groomed for singing and acting superstardom by Reynolds, with whom she remained close (if contentiously so) her whole life.
Her vivacious intelligence was irresistible onstage alongside Reynolds, and first seen on-screen in Warren Beatty’s Shampoo when Fisher was 17. Fisher was attending the London Central School of Speech and Drama when Lucas was casting Star Wars, but she almost lost the role. She missed the first casting call, and Lucas was leaning towards choosing Terri Nunn for Leia.
Luckily, Fisher was good friends with Fred Roos, the casting legend behind The Godfather‘s line-up. Roos was working informally with Lucas and kept pressuring him to see Fisher. When Lucas finally met her in December 1975, he asked her to read the speech that Leia gives in hologram form to R2-D2. At that point, the speech was very wordy and many actors were defeated by it.
But Fisher had just been schooled in elocution. She had gained a slight British accent and a love of tongue-twisters. Her favorite, as she related in Wishful Drinking, was this: “I want a proper cup of coffee from a proper copper coffee pot. If I cant have a proper cup of coffee from a proper copper coffee pot, I’ll have a cup of tea.”
She nailed the speech, devoured the script (as an avid reader, she was among the first to see its potential), donned the unusual hairstyle (modeled on Mexican women of the early 20th century), and Princess Leia was born.
Despite being perfect for the role, projecting an air of confidence beyond her years, Fisher was profoundly insecure. Lucas offered little in the way of direction on set, but she later claimed he ordered her to lose 10 pounds and not to wear a bra.
Nevertheless, viewers saw a take-charge princess, a Howard Hawks-style wisecracking heroine with a kick-ass blaster a new icon.
Leia changed lives.
As she bested Harrison Ford with her attitude on screen, Fisher decided it was time to have her first affair and began a three-month romance with the 34-year-old married Ford off-screen. (She finally revealed the details of that surreal time this year in her last book, The Princess Diarist, but had been hinting at it for years.)
The pressures of superstardom were immense. By the time Empire Strikes Back started filming in 1979, the 21-year-old was coping by drinking, partying hard the Rolling Stones were regular visitors to her London flat during the shoot and, she later freely admitted, abusing cocaine.
On set she was anxious and frustrated with how “one-dimensional” Leia was, and how much Ford was able to improvise his character. An attempt at a singing career had stalled and other roles were thin on the ground. “I function exclusively in space, it seems,” she lamented to an interviewer.
She asked George Lucas for some kind of edge to her character in Return of the Jedi something to suggest the struggle she’d been through. She found herself in a slave bikini.
Leia was the commander of the Rebels on the moon of Endor in the movie’s first draft; by the final draft, it was General Han Solo.
Which is not to say Fisher didn’t enjoy her iconic status; she held onto the bikini, after all (and at one point, made her friend William Shatner wear it). But it does explain why Fisher had a complicated relationship with Leia, and why she advised her co-star in The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley, to keep control of her costume.
Other actors might have just vented to friends. Fisher wrote her way out, venting to the world in a manner that made us love her more. In 2013, for example, she penned a characteristically hilarious and cutting open letter to Leia:
Here we are enacting our very own Dorian Gray configuration. You: smooth, certain, and straight-backed, forever condemned to the vast, enviable prison of intergalactic adventure. Me: struggling more and more with post-galactic stress disorder, bearing your scars, graying your eternally dark, ridiculous hair.
But that was far from her first take on the subject. In 1985, after a drug overdose sent her to the hospital, Fisher started writing about her career the lack of control she felt over her characters and over her addiction in novel form.
The result was Postcards From the Edge. Published in 1987, it was swiftly followed in 1990 by the acclaimed film version, also written by Fisher. Meryl Streep played Fisher’s role, while Shirley MacLaine played a thinly-veiled Debbie Reynolds.
In an era where celebrity tell-alls are the norm, it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking Postcards was. Nobody had really captured their Hollywood life on screen honestly like this before and nobody would tell it the way Fisher could again. Her sparkling dialogue put George Lucas to shame.
Four more novels, and three nonfiction memoirs followed. Fisher certainly had plenty of material.
Her rocky relationship with the singer Paul Simon was one source; the two had dated since 1977, with a brief interlude in which she was engaged to Dan Ackroyd. Fisher and Simon were married for one year, then went back to dating. Simon specifically wrote two songs about the relationship: Hearts and Bones and She Moves On.
Her next relationship, with talent agent Bryan Lourd, ended when Lourd left her for another man. With Lourd she had her daughter Billie, who appeared briefly in a nonspeaking role in The Force Awakens (and will also appear in Episode VIII). Billie, and the famous French bulldog Gary Fisher, were the center of Carrie’s universe in later years.
Another target for Fisher’s self-examining wit was her bipolar disorder, which she came to realize she had been self-medicating. She also received many years of electroshock therapy that she found very useful, even if the price was the loss of certain memories.
But nothing beat Star Wars as a source for Fisher’s humor. Before she reprised her role in The Force Awakens, she was making Wishful Drinking audiences split their sides discussing all the merchandise with her face on it. She brought onto stage one example of Leia in the slave bikini of which her mother had said, “you can see all the way to Florida.”
Fisher revealed she’d complained to Lucas about the doll. “I told George, ‘You have the rights to my face,'” she said. “You do not have the rights to my lagoon of mystery!'”
That was a vintage Carrie Fisher moment: hilarious, shocking, revealing, resigned to a perpetual love-hate relationship with her most famous character. She was always struggling with her overexposure and the consequences of fame.
She had no time for niceties. She was a different kind of princess. She spoke truth to galactic power, and lived a full life doing things Leia would never dare to do.
The planet is darker and less funny for her passing.
Entertainment editor Josh Dickey contributed reporting to this story.