Carrie Fisher was show business royalty from birth, the daughter of slick lounge singer Eddie Fisher and perpetual ingénue Debbie Reynolds, who’s always been much savvier and sharper than her roles suggest. Starting as a tart of an actress and then the original hair-bunned Princess Leia in Star Wars, it was inevitable that Carrie segued into being a writer/commentator with a pricelessly acidic take on everything Hollywood, as well as all the outrageous incidents in her life, from drugs to bad boyfriends and beyond.
All of it made Carrie stronger and funnier, and as time went on, her bond with Debbie got even stronger, the two realizing they were kindred spirits, wary-of-men women who will never be the bright-eyed starlets the world wanted them to be, glued at the hip replacement and virtually able finish each others’ sentences.
Carrie’s death at 60, announced today some days after she suffered a heart attack on a plane bound for Los Angeles, robs the world of one of its most hilarious and knowing observers. I recall that she told me in 1989 that people were so fixated on her problems because, “They’re fascinated with foul-ups. It’s the principal on which Dynasty’s based—f--k-ups of the rich and famous.”
While shining a light on the weirdnesses of the biz, Carrie also made it Ok to talk about being bipolar and/or having drug addictions or slimy fiancees. Her relationships were as up and down as everything else—from Paul Simon to Dan Aykroyd to Paul Simon again, with a stop at Harrison Ford somewhere along the way, and, later Bryan Lourd, with whom she has a daughter. (The show biz royalty genealogy really does go on.)
Locating her as the nucleus of this expansive clan, the HBO documentary Bright Lights by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens—which showed at the New York Film Festival this fall—captures Carrie at her most human, funny, and vulnerable. We see her making nice with Eddie three months before he died, and also basically becoming a parent to Debbie, who seemed to be slowing down, despite her unsinkable urge for a spotlight and an audience. “Age is horrible for all of us,” says Carrie in the movie, “but Debbie falls from a greater height.”
In that old interview I did with her for the Village Voice, Carrie talked about her book Postcards From The Edge (later the brilliant movie by the late Mike Nichols, for which she adapted the screenplay) being dissected in all its satirical inter-generational wisdoms. “I get interviewed as if I wrote an autobiography,” she said, “or I didn’t and now I should. They want you to evangelize about drug addiction or give some new dirt on Debbie and Eddie. I feel like I’m qualifying for some public office and I have to clear my name.”
She said that one interviewer kept hammering questions at her with the obvious intent of wanting her to blame John Belushi for her drug use. “The guy weighed, like, 300 pounds,” she related, “and he was saying, ‘Why did you do drugs?’ and I wanted to say, ‘Why do you eat that much. Are you that hungry?’“
A few years later, I reconnected with Carrie and she reliably delivered the goods once again. Emboldened by our bond, I brazenly asked her if the rumor is true that she once walked in on Debbie doing it with Agnes Moorehead, Endora from Bewitched. Without missing a beat, Carrie deadpanned, "I hardly ever walked in on her with men.”
Not quite as slickly, she was nervous about going to her book party later that night, so I wryly suggested I’d go as her. Liking that idea, she ran into the other room and gleefully came back with a pair of her panties for me to wear! Selfishly, I put them on and stayed home.