After suffering a massive heart attack while on a plane from London to Los Angeles, writer and actress Carrie Frances Fisher died four days later on Dec. 27, prompting a worldwide outpouring of grief from family, friends, and fans.
In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Fisher played the iconic Princess Leia of the Star Wars franchise, a role she reprised 40 years later in another SW episode, The Force Awakens (2015).
While she continued acting and performing throughout her life, she also made a name for herself as a writer—a novelist, memoirist, playwright, and script doctor (she was good at writing dialogue and helped polish the scripts of Sister Act, Lethal Weapon 3, The Wedding Singer, and the Star Wars prequels, among many other works, mostly uncredited).
Her latest book, The Princess Diarist, released last November, is a memoir of her experiences on the Star Wars set, based on the diaries she kept during the time. In it she reveals having a short affair with her co-star Harrison Ford, who was then 34 to her 19.
Fisher’s sudden death rekindled interest in her works—the paperbacks of her other memoirs Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic, and her debut novel Postcards from the Edge, are now out of stock on Amazon. She was candid in print and interviews about her drug use and bipolar disorder, quipping, “You know how they say that religion is the opiate of the masses? Well, I took masses of opiates religiously.”
“Writing in a way saved me, kept me company,” she declared. “I did the traditional thing with falling in love with words and reading books.”
Fisher’s portrayal of Princess, later General, Leia Organa as a strong warrior-woman made her a feminist icon. When told of a father who said he could not let his daughter watch her “slave Leia in the gold bikini” scene—“What would I tell her?” she replied, “Tell her that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.”
She was witty, funny, sexy, honest, and above all, gloriously true to herself. The rules Fisher lived by were simple: “Be kind. Don’t hurt other people.”
The expression of grief over her passing is similar to that offered upon the deaths of the many artists who died this year. Some of the other notable artists we lost in 2016: Harper Lee, Umberto Eco, Richard Adams, writers; David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, musicians; Alan Rickman, Alan Thicke, actors.
Why are so many upset over the passing of Carrie Fisher and these other personalities whom we only know from the art they created that became part of mainstream popular culture? For one, it’s because these people portrayed characters and made art we grew up with. They gave life and breath and color to characters of our fantasies and imaginings. The resonance comes from remembering the feelings we felt watching the movies, listening to the music. It’s largely a mixture of emotion and nostalgia for the past.
Generation Xers take these losses hard because they belong to the first generation to have home video. Popping in that Betamax or VHS cassette, one could watch Star Wars over and over, memorizing the scenes and dialogue.
Princess Leia stood out as a character because she was strong and brave and a woman. How many children and teenagers, feeling helpless or unrecognized, felt empowered and confident after watching the princess/senator take a blaster and calmly rescue herself and comrades who had come to rescue her? How many young girls realized they could lead as well as a male, or even better, after seeing Leia fearlessly head the Rebel Alliance in their attempts to end the tyranny of the Empire?
While playing Leia wasn’t Fisher’s only achievement, it was she who gave body and voice and movement to Princess Leia, who embodied the dreams of many people around the world for decades, and for that she will be missed and always remembered.
Fisher knew she was inextricable from the character she played, and she accepted it: “I’ve totally embraced it. I like Princess Leia. I like how she was feisty. I like how she killed Jabba the Hutt. That’s my favorite thing she did.”
As we bid farewell to Carrie Fisher and 2016, Happy New Year, everyone, and let us hope that 2017 will be better for us all. May the Force be with you.
Dr. Ortuoste is a California-based writer. Follow her on Facebook: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, Instagram: @jensdecember