Obituary

Hollywood princess with a dark side

Actress Carrie Fisher (above) before a rehearsal of her show, Wishful Drinking, at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2006. Fisher in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (far left), with Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford; in Star Wars: Episode VI - Re
Actress Carrie Fisher (above) before a rehearsal of her show, Wishful Drinking, at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2006. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Actress Carrie Fisher (above) before a rehearsal of her show, Wishful Drinking, at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2006. Fisher in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (far left), with Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford; in Star Wars: Episode VI - Re
Fisher in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, with Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford.PHOTO: LUCASFILM
Actress Carrie Fisher (above) before a rehearsal of her show, Wishful Drinking, at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2006. Fisher in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (far left), with Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford; in Star Wars: Episode VI - Re
Fisher in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens.PHOTO: LUCASFILM
Actress Carrie Fisher (above) before a rehearsal of her show, Wishful Drinking, at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2006. Fisher in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (far left), with Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford; in Star Wars: Episode VI - Re
Fisher in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return Of The Jedi with Hamill.PHOTO: LUCASFILM

Carrie Fisher, famous for playing Princess Leia in Star Wars films, was the daughter of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1950s

NEW YORK • 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, died on Tuesday. She was 60.

She was on a promotional tour for her new memoir, The Princess Diarist, when she had a heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles last Friday. She was rushed to the UCLA medical centre and put in intensive care. She died at the hospital, her daughter Billie Lourd told People magazine.

The daughter of two of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1950s - actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher - she led a life of inescapable fame and the privilege and chaos that came with it.

Star Wars, released in 1977, turned her overnight into an international movie star in her own right.

The film, written and directed by George Lucas, proved to be the first instalment of a blockbuster series whose vivid, even preposterous, characters became pop culture legends and the progenitors of a merchandising bonanza.

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 Han Solo.

  • Celebrities say

  • She was extremely smart; a talented actress, writer and comedienne with a very colourful personality that everyone loved. In Star Wars, she was our great and powerful princess - feisty, wise and full of hope in a role that was more difficult than most people might think. She will be missed by all.

    STAR WARS CREATOR GEORGE LUCAS

    Carrie was one-of-a-kind... brilliant, original. Funny and emotionally fearless. She lived her life, bravely... My thoughts are with her daughter Billie, her mother Debbie, her brother Todd, and her many friends. We will all miss her.

    STAR WARS ACTOR HARRISON FORD

    She was OUR Princess and the actress who played her blurred into one gorgeous, fiercely independent and ferociously funny, take-charge woman who took our collective breath away.

    STAR WARS ACTOR MARK HAMILL

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 on Tuesday 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 December next year.

What proved more difficult for her was playing the role of Carrie Fisher. By design or necessity, she was constantly reinventing herself, first as a versatile character actress and later as a best-selling writer and raconteur, telling confessional tales about her troubled life amid Tinseltown's glamour and grit.

In her first book, the best-selling semi-autobiographical 1987 novel Postcards From The Edge, she wrote of life inside drug-rehabilitation clinics, of bedroom couplings and uncouplings and especially about the doubts, fears and resentments of a daughter who always seemed to stand in the shadow of her glamorous mother.

The book's opening line could stand in as a nutshell summary of Fisher's problems - and humour: "Maybe I shouldn't have given the guy who pumped my stomach my phone number, but who cares? My life is over anyway."

 
 
 

She later wrote the screenplay for Postcards, which became a 1990 box-office hit directed by Mike Nichols. Actress Meryl Streep received an Oscar nomination for playing Suzanne Vale, an aspiring actress whose life lurched from emergency to emergency. (Fisher was not interested in the role, she said, because "I already did that".) Shirley MacLaine portrayed Doris, the lead character's vain, overbearing mother.

Despite the big-screen airing of family dysfunction, Fisher and Reynolds stayed on remarkably good terms - and ended up living next door to each other in Beverly Hills.

The movie led Fisher to yet another career as one of Hollywood's top script doctors. Over a period of more than 15 years, she sharpened the dialogue of dozens of films, from Sister Act (1992) and So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993) to various Star Wars sequels.

She wrote three more novels - Surrender The Pink (1990), Delusions Of Grandma (1993) and The Best Awful There Is (2004) - before abandoning the pretence of fiction altogether in favour of unvarnished memoir, with Wishful Drinking (2008) and Shockaholic (2011).

Wishful Drinking, a runaway bestseller, was based on a successful one-woman stage show in which she mined the seemingly endless trove of embarrassing, tragic and absurd events that made up her life.

She was, by her own admission, an enfant terrible who never learnt how to grow up.

She had bipolar disorder, for which she received electroshock therapy. She loved LSD, rummaged through bathroom medicine cabinets and became addicted to cocaine, Percodan and booze. Her interviews were unscripted and unguarded, as she chain-smoked cigarettes, chugged Coca-Cola and made light of her emotional damage.

Among other romantic attachments, she had a seven-year relationship with singer-songwriter Paul Simon before they were married in 1983. The marriage lasted less than a year and he was inspired to write his song, Hearts And Bones, about their time together.

As its lyrics go:

Two people were married
The act was outrageous
The bride was contagious
She burned like a bride.
These events may have had
some effect
On the man with the girl
by his side.

She later had a relationship with agent Bryan Lourd, with whom she had a daughter in 1992. Lourd then left her for a man.

Despite the relentless drama of her life, she maintained a steady acting career. Her first movie role came in Shampoo (1975) in which she - still in her teens - had a sultry seduction scene with Warren Beatty.

During the 1980s, she appeared in other films, most notably as John Belushi's vengeful love interest in The Blues Brothers (1980), as Dianne Wiest's business partner in Woody Allen's Hannah And Her Sisters (1986) and as Meg Ryan's scene- stealing best friend in When Harry Met Sally (1989). She was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2007 for a one-time role as an over-the-hill, mentally unbalanced TV writer on the sitcom 30 Rock.

Carrie Frances Fisher was born on Oct 21, 1956, in Burbank, California. Her mother, now 84, was a wholesome singer-dancer-actress who starred in the classic 1952 musical Singin' In The Rain. Her father was a crooning teen idol with 17 Top 10 hits between 1950 and 1956.

Reynolds' best friend in Hollywood was actress Elizabeth Taylor. After Taylor's husband, producer Mike Todd, was killed in an airplane crash in 1958, she found comfort in the arms of Eddie Fisher. He left Reynolds and their two young children and, in 1959, married Taylor, creating one of the most notorious scandals in Hollywood history.

Carrie was two at the time. "I thought everybody had stepmothers living in bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel wearing negligees," she said in 2011.

At 13, she began performing in her mother's nightclub act, then dropped out of high school at 15 to sing in the chorus of her mother's Broadway show, Irene.

She studied acting in London for about 18 months before she began to land film roles. By the time she found success, her mother's career was in eclipse and her father was all but forgotten.

She said in a 2006 interview with National Public Radio: "I knew better than I knew anything that what happens with stardom, with fame, is it goes away, and it leaves you in a humiliated space."

Survivors include her mother; her daughter Billie Lourd; and a brother, the producer-director Todd Fisher.

Fisher had a Dorothy Parker-like presence on Twitter, where she ruminated on the inexplicable mania surrounding Star Wars and her French bulldog, Gary, in playful messages filled with emoji.

Last year, after the release of The Force Awakens, she wrote, in part: "Please stop debating about whether OR not (eye emoji) aged well. unfortunately it hurts all 3 of my feelings. My BODY hasn't aged as well as I have."

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2016, with the headline 'Hollywood princess with a dark side'. Print Edition | Subscribe