Many stars have died in 2016, but none of these losses have the same sting for me as the death of Carrie Fisher. Perhaps best known for her role as Princess (later General) Leia Organa, she was far more than just a big screen princess. Fisher was an upfront and honest voice about mental illness and addiction, and she spoke with clarity and humor about the darkest parts of her life to help others. Carrie Fisher was an amazing woman and will be remembered for her many and varied contributions on and off screen.
Fisher’s death comes after a heart attack on Friday, just before Christmas, on a flight from London to Los Angeles. Fisher has long been honest about the toll that early fame took on her as a person and on her health, including her stints in rehab, her overdoses, and her brushes with death over the years.
Her openness about her struggles endeared her to fans across the world, and made her relatable and a beacon of hope for those struggling to overcome similar issues in their own families and personal lives. One of the first stars to be really open about her struggles with bipolar disorder, Fisher catalogued her ups and downs in writing, plays, and social media.
Fisher was also a true feminist, and she deserves a lot of credit for how she talked about men and women in Hollywood. One of my favorite examples of this is this is from a recent interview:
This was also Fisher’s favorite moment, as well: “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.”
Leia was a “damsel who could very much deal with her own distress” and she did so with class and femininity. Fisher understood, and showed generations of girls and boys, the feminist claim that removing barriers and obstacles is what makes men and women equal is asinine, and that true strength is overcoming what life (and the Dark Side) throws in your path. While the men in Star Wars epically succumb to the Dark Side, Star Wars fans always knew that Fisher’s princess had no time for that nonsense: “friendly reminder that leia has lost her adoptive parents, entire planet, father, husband, son and been abandoned by her brother and yet has never been tempted by the dark side even once. take notes skywalker boys ya’ll weak as shit.” Fisher never tried to be one of the boys, and she didn’t need to be to be an icon.
Fisher talked just last month on how she felt about dying. Incredibly poignant considering how quickly her death followed, it’s surreal to read her response to a question about whether she feared death: “No. I fear dying. Anything with pain associated with it, I don’t like. I’ve been there for a couple of people when they were dying; it didn’t look like fun. But if I was gonna do it, I’d want someone like me around. And I will be there!”
Fisher’s death came quickly, and hopefully without the fear and pain that she wanted to avoid. She was a beloved daughter, sister and mother, as well as friend, and those who loved and supported her in life will doubtlessly miss her and so will her fans. Fisher is gone, but her legacy is not, and will only continue to grow and influence Scifi and mental health culture, especially since she’d already filmed scenes for the next Star Wars installment.
Remember Fisher as she was in life— smart, vibrant, feisty and honest. Remember her as the characters she poured herself into, and for the cautionary tales she spun out of her own life. Remember her as a princess, as a someone who fought for light and hope a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Remember her when you show compassion to those suffering trying to cope with an addiction and trying to find peace through mental illness.