The Star Wars actress led a complicated life, with moments both dark and light. But it’s her beautiful sense of honesty, bravery, and hope that I’ll remember.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars, 1977. Lucasfilm Entertainment Company Ltd. | MoviestillsDB
I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that this is how I first thought of Carrie Fisher: as the woman who stole my man.
It’s embarrassing because the “man” in question was Han Solo. Even more embarrassing is the “my” part. He wasn’t mine. I was, after all, six years old (yikes!), but Han was my first big-screen crush. I can remember watching Star Wars again and again, thinking how handsome and funny Han was. Plus, he loved animals, at least, Chewbacca. What a catch. And it didn’t escape my attention that Princess Leia caught his.
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And yet, I couldn’t help but like Princess Leia. I loved her, actually. As a character in the famous trilogy, she was smart, strong-willed, and brave (no wonder my Han liked her). Just a few years before I’d don my best Gunne Sax dress, pretending to have Lady Di’s wardrobe and wedding, at age six I’d play princess in an entirely different way. I’d wrap my hair in side buns and hold a branch, light-saber style, high above my head. I’d imagine world-saving adventures, using my wits and my wand, like a real princess: tough and beautiful, stylish and fierce. But also, human … and a little flawed.
Not all that dissimilar to the real Carrie Fisher, as I learned later.
When Fisher’s death after cardiac issues was announced over the airwaves yesterday while in my car, I fell silent with grief, and felt a resurgence of my old affection for her welling up. Not because she played a princess so many of us girls grew up idolizing and envying. Not because she was perfect—she wasn’t. (Over the years, there have been reports of drug use, and an affair with a married Harrison Ford.) But because she was a part of our culture, and an interesting, complicated person who left her footprint on cinema, and the world.
I grieve because, flawed as she was, Fisher, who lived to age 60, was a woman of a certain kind of character. Though she was most famous for playing a role in a galaxy far far away, she was a very down to earth woman in real life. A woman who often admitted her insecurities and imperfections openly. A product of “Hollywood royalty” (she was famously the daughter of crooner, Eddie Fisher, and movie star, Debbie Reynolds) who tried not to perpetuate Hollywood fantasies or glamorous lies about what that red carpet lifestyle was really like.
Most of the time, I believe that Fisher told it like it was: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Long before tell-all blogs in which everyone and their mothers share the “mess” of their lives, and long before Brene Brown spoke of the power of vulnerability, Fisher lived it and shared it. Fisher wrote of her difficulties growing up in a famous, troubled family, and shared her struggles with addiction and mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder.
Mental health advocates credit Fisher with demystifying the disease, helping others know they weren’t alone, and offering a picture of a person who succeeds in life, despite the ongoing struggle. She seemed to take her role as mental health advocate seriously. In an “Ask Carrie Fisher column” in the Guardian, someone with bipolar disorder who said he couldn’t “see very far down the line” asked Fisher if she was ever able find peace despite a “seesawing” mind. Her response was insightful and heartening:
“We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic—not ‘I survived living in Mosul during an attack’ heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who share our disorder. That’s why it’s important to find a community—however small—of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.”
And in Fisher, in her willingness to bare her soul, share her struggles, and offer the world some hope in their hardships, she offered community to those who needed it.
Though the world has lost Fisher, perhaps we can remember her legacy of openness and togetherness as we all struggle to live better. We can try to help one another, and carry on that sense of humanity and hope in our own lives—whether on a space ship in the future, or right here on earth, today.
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