Carrie Fisher: 1956 – 2016

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Mike: Well, the most obvious thing to do is talk about how beloved and inspirational Carrie Fisher was. The second most obvious thing to do is talk about how obvious it is to talk about how beloved and inspirational she was. So I’m gonna do what Carrie herself would probably do, and speak immodestly about my brain for a minute.

I’m unhappy about her passing on an intellectual level—it’s unfortunate and unfair and I recognize how it could drive one to despair. But on an emotional level, I don’t really feel it. I rarely feel death emotionally; it’s inevitable, so why be sad over something you can’t control? Again, I understand that this isn’t typical, but it’s just how my mind works. I cry at the end of Apollo 13, and I shed tears six times during my first viewing of The Force Awakens, but now? Nothing.

Over time I’ve come to understand that I just don’t connect with other humans that way—I can feel enormously passionate about people on a demographic level, but not as individuals. It’s possible that I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of Asperger syndrome—especially when I think back to myself as a child—but I’ve never had any interest in a diagnosis; I’ve led a pretty normal and comfortable life so it would feel presumptuous to seek out the banner of mental illness for something that has never really harmed me beyond a reputation for being aloof. After all, it could be that I’m just an asshole.

After a youth and adolescence of scrambling to figure out how I was “supposed” to connect with my peers, and wondering if it was worth the trouble, I eventually discovered that you can say anything you want if it’s funny enough. Where I didn’t have the skill set for a polite lie, I found that the truth was okay as long as it made people laugh, so that became my means of making a direct impression on people. It was the next best thing to a sincere connection: say something appalling that people laugh at in spite of themselves.

I don’t know enough about Carrie’s particular mental bouillabaisse to know whether she came to it for similar reasons, but I do know that I felt my strongest kinship with her in her tendency—her apparent need—to say the awful thing everyone else was thinking and make you love her for it. It’s very hard for me to be unabashedly sincere, not because I don’t know the correct words but because sincerity is boring and obvious in a moment like this and she deserves better. With her wit, her intensity and her utter shamelessness, Carrie showed me that even assholes can be beloved—you just have to own it.

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Ben C: 2016 – it started by killing David Bowie and it looks like it will be ending by killing Carrie Fisher. Now rationally speaking 2016 did not do anything, it is not an animate force of darkness, nor is it the dark side of the Force but somehow, on an irrational level, ascribing malign motivation to the year we’re currently in feels a little better than ‘shit just happens’. It gives us something to rage at, possibly the Ancient Greeks felt the same way for their pantheon of gods and goddesses were a bunch of utter bastards, which in turn explained the unfairness of life and Carrie Fisher’s sudden passing certainly feels unfair.

Yet, her best appearances, where I got a sense of who she was as a person, were on Channel 4’s topical comedy weekly review show The Last Leg. She was on twice, each time the quips were flying, evidence of a quick and very sharp wit, yet at the same time neither was it cruel. The interplay between her and the hosts was comedy gold and then her dog joined in…. Last week, on the last episode of the current series, just as the news of her suffering the heart attack broke, she got a mention at the end. It was along the lines many of us thought: Get well soon and don’t you fucking dare 2016.

As Leia…well, the term ‘iconic’ gets throws around a lot but in Leia’s case it’s fitting. Fisher played the woman who went toe-to-toe with both Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader and told them both, well basically to go fuck themselves. She was the character who took charge of her own rescue, then is in the command room at Yavin. Later in Empire she orders the escape route, involving a planetary ion cannon disabling a Star Destroyer. As Leia, Fisher got to play a character that has legions of now heart-broken fans the world over.

carrie-harrisondinerWatching the films won’t be the same any more, nor will she grace another episode of the Last Leg.

Mark: What I admired most about Carrie was that she was so open about her vulnerability, without embarrassment and without fear. She showed us her true self – such a rare thing in an industry that has a reputation for falseness – and she did so with a fierce intellect, wit, wisdom and compassion that was inspirational. The reaction to her death has not been that of losing a character or even an actress, but of losing a friend, because she allowed us to know her.

Her interviews, panels, talk-show appearances and tweets were never less than a joy, and I think we should make it a resolution to go into 2017 with a bit of Carrie’s honesty, defiance and I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude. Because the world is going to be a poorer place without her in it, but will always be a better place for her having been a part of it.

Jay: Anything I could say would be inadequate, but here goes: Princess Leia was my hero growing up, and an inspiration. Her dedication to public service has shaped me all through life. And it’s telling that no matter what franchise we’re talking about, characters that have a Leia-esque ethos always tend to be my favorite. I’ve long felt that Leia was central to the Star Wars story, that without her, the revolution that was Star Wars — in character and out — could never happen. Long before I started talking about the Empire, there was just Leia.

That’s the character — a character that meant so much to so many, but a character who Carrie played. She always maintained a closeness to that character, both shaping her by her portrayal and her changes to her dialogue and staying fond of her for years to come. What the character began, Carrie finished: she’s been an example and hero to many all the way down to 2016.

I’m glad I had the chance to go to her panel last Celebration. Next to the movie trailer event, it was the one thing I knew I had to see. It was astonishing to see how frank she was. And on the TFA press circuit: talking about aging, weight, addiction, mental health. Carrie had a frankness in confronting society’s biases, a frankness in confronting illness, and a frankness in encouraging people to be their best selves.

Princess Leia may have been the childhood character I looked up to, but Carrie Fisher continued to be a role model. She broke barriers in 1977, but she kept doing it even in 2016. On and off screen, she was a hero. And that’s truly something. I will miss her dearly.

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Sarah: It’s hard to find the right words to express just how devastated I was by the news of her passing. I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since I was about three, and Leia was as integral to my childhood as Disney princesses and loose teeth. Leia was the first in a long line of female heroes; the first to show me the importance of standing up for yourself and taking the lead, even when times are tough. She showed me how to be tough, how to make no excuses for what you believe in, and how to be a leader.

As I grew older, I learned about the incredible woman behind one of my favorite heroes. A woman who had been through a hell of a lot and made it through the other side. She was loud, and brazen, and at times crass, but she never made any excuses for who she was and what she was about. She was unapologetically herself and she wasn’t going to change in order to fit some idea of what an older woman in Hollywood should be. I was lucky enough to sit in on two panels of hers, at Dragon Con and at Celebration Anaheim, and she has one of the most brilliant and sharpest wits I’ve seen and I don’t think I stopped laughing for the entire hour she was speaking (or performing, really, but there was nothing fake or rehearsed about it; it was all her).

Most importantly she was one of, if not THE first person I saw talking openly and candidly about mental illness and her own struggles with it. As someone who personally struggles from a various assortment of badbrains as well, seeing my hero was, well, just like me, means more to me than I can put into words. She did a lot to increase awareness about mental health and reduce the stigma around it and, most importantly, did so in a way that made it relatable. For that, I will be eternally grateful.

I count myself extremely lucky that I was able to briefly meet her at Dragon Con several years ago, even if for only a few minutes. I remember walking into the room where she was signing autographs and being absolutely tongue-tied and star struck. I think I managed to babble out some incoherent statement about how much Leia means to me, both as a kid and now, and while I know she’s probably heard thousands of fans say the same thing over the years, she still looked up at me, smiled, and shook my hand as if I was the first person to tell her that. It’s among one of my more treasured memories.

I don’t really know how to wrap this up. Frankly, I’m still a bit in shock; this is the first celebrity death to personally hit me and it feels like a beloved family member has died. She was a candidly smart and hilarious woman, and I know the world will be a little more serious with her not in it. She didn’t box herself into any preconceived notion about what a woman, especially an aging woman, should be like in Hollywood (in fact, she’d frequently and bluntly call people out on it). In that way, she was very much like Leia. It seems perhaps limited to keep comparing her to her most well-known film role, since she had quite a career outside of it, but she IS Leia, just as Leia is Carrie. They both went through hell and came out the other side with a funny quip to boot. They have attitude and stubbornness and are going to bust through your preconceived notions of who they’re supposed to be, whether you like it or not.

I’m sure that Carrie would want us all celebrating the extraordinary life she lived and relating humorous stories about her instead of sitting around crying. I’m sure she’d have three or four one-liners to cut through the sorrow and make everyone laugh. And tomorrow perhaps I will. But today, I’m mourning the loss of my hero and my princess.

May the Force be with you, Carrie. To us, you’ll always be royalty.

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Rocky: I’m definitely still in shock. There aren’t a lot of celebrities I’ve ended up attached to, but ever since I was a child seeing this amazing woman in Star Wars who wasn’t any lesser for being female, I’ve loved Carrie Fisher. Hearing how open and honest she was about mental health helped me so much, and I know I’m not alone in that.

That was something a lot of us needed. Someone whose star character had been a great role model for girls often pushed out of sci-fi, and as a person, talking about things that few people are able to acknowledge. When I struggled with my own mental health, Carrie Fisher was one of the reasons I decided to be honest about it and unashamed, and I know that’s helped me immensely.

All I can do is what she would have done- keep living unapologetically and honestly, speak my mind, and not let my struggles get me down. Carrie Fisher has become one with the Force, and she will be in our hearts always.

David: There’s not much I can add to what has already been said and I’m currently on the road so I’m having to dictate this to my phone, so I’ll keep it brief. The best thing I can say about Carrie Fisher is that I always felt like she would have fit in at my family’s Christmas table: caustic, hilarious, not worried about who she offended, with more issues than Time Magazine, and proud of a complicated past that she had managed to survive. The rarest of humans: someone who actually had something to say. Listening to her talking at conventions, always spicing some anarchy over the corporate bullshit that’s intrinsic to those marketing fairs, and reading her talking openly and frankly about her past and her mental health issues, I always felt like she was someone I knew. There was something incredibly familiar about her.

Unlike Mike, I’m a horribly emotional person; yet perhaps paradoxically, I’m also struggling to feel sorrow, real sorrow. I feel melancholy, a vague and hard-to-describe blueness over the passing of someone that I honestly expected to survive me. Someone that I never knew but that I always felt like I understood. Someone who always did and said what she wanted and that still had a lot to share with us.

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Ben W: Carrie Fisher was one of the first movie stars that I recognized, since Star Wars was one of the first film series I ever watched. My primitive preschool brain connected her with the role of Princess Leia so tightly that it blew my mind to see her in anything else. But as time went on and I took in more of her body of work, both her filmography and her writing and other solo projects, I grew to appreciate her more and more as a person rather than just as a face on the screen.

I don’t have a personal attachment to her as much as some of the others here do. I never met her or had the chance to see her in person. Compared to Harrison Ford, who was also Indiana Jones, and Mark Hamill, who to me split time between being Luke and being the Joker, Carrie didn’t have another role to really supplant Princess Leia. In place of that, then, I had to put Carrie as a person within my mental reckoning instead of another role she played.

In learning about her and her life, even from a young age I learned about how frank she was about everything she had been through in her life. She was transparent, she didn’t primp and preen for the cameras, she was honest and forthright to a fault. With everything she had gone through, and everything she had to deal with, she really could not be anything else. Addiction, drug use, alcohol abuse, messy relationships and far more, and she bared it all.

We’ve lost an icon, let’s not mince words about that. One of the Big Three, the stars of Star Wars, is gone. But let’s not lose sight of the loss of the woman herself as well. Carrie was such a breath of fresh air in a Hollywood culture that is so scripted and dressed up; she was a revolutionary person in how she met that culture, flipped it the bird and marched to the beat of her own drummer. I hope her example reached into a generation of young starlets to keep them from being driven insane by the unrelenting spotlight of fame.

Like Mike said, Carrie wouldn’t want us to dress things up and say pithy words about what an inspiration she was and how influential her roles were just because that’s what people do. She would want us to speak straight, to be honest and not let the decorum or societal memes dictate our reactions. Make no mistake, then, I will miss seeing her on screen and reading about her in the news, and the world will be a darker, drearier place for her passing.

And I know for sure that, when she appears for the last time in Episode VIII, I will not be able to keep from crying.

3 comments

  1. Hannah says:

    Aspergers isn’t a mental illness, it is a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum. Basically, there’s nothing “wrong” with the brain, it just is structured differently from a neuro-typical brain. If I sound like I’m splitting hairs, it’s just because my brother has diagnosed Aspergers and calling it a mental illness has had real-life negative consequences for him.
    Other than that, great article!

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