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Culture Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in 'Star Wars,' dies at 60

Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in ‘Star Wars,’ dies at 60

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“I was born famous,” Carrie Fisher said.

The daughter of two of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the 1950s – actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher – she would lead a life of inescapable fame, and the privilege and chaos that came with it.

She became a celebrity in her own right, playing the heroic Princess Leia in the blockbuster 1977 film “Star Wars” and two sequels in the 1980s, in what was the role of a lifetime.

What proved more difficult 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 parents and her troubled life amid Tinseltown’s glamour and grit.

Seldom far from a spotlight or the paparazzi, Fisher returned to the headlines in November, when she revealed in interviews and in a newly published memoir that she had an affair with co-star Harrison Ford while filming “Star Wars” in the 1970s.

She was on a promotion tour for her new book, “The Princess Diarist,” when she suffered an apparent heart attack Dec. 23 on an airline flight from London to Los Angeles. She was rushed to the UCLA medical center and put in intensive care. She died Dec. 27 at the hospital, her daughter Billie Lourd told People magazine. She was 60.

Already a celebrity from “Star Wars,” Fisher won a different kind of acclaim in her 30s, as she launched an unexpected second career as an acerbic, self-lacerating chronicler of Hollywood excess – or “what it’s like to live an all-too-exciting life for all too long.”

In her first book, the best-selling semi-autobiographical 1987 novel “Postcards From the Edge,” Fisher 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 humor: “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. Meryl Streep received an Oscar nomination for playing Suzanne Vale, an aspiring actress whose life lurched from emergency to emergency. (Fisher wasn’t interested in the role, she said, because “I already did that.”)

Shirley MacLaine portrayed Doris, the lead character’s vain, overbearing mother, but Fisher reserved her harshest words in her script for Suzanne, the stand-in for herself.

“I came from nowhere and made something out of my life,” Doris tells her daughter. “You came from somewhere and are making nothing out of yours.”

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.

Reviewers linked the verbal agility of Fisher’s script to a comic Hollywood tradition that was virtually part of her DNA.

“In this era of postverbal cinema,” Time critic Richard Corliss wrote, ” ‘Postcards’ proves that movie dialogue can still carry the sting, heft, and meaning of the finest old romantic comedy.”

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,” “The Best Awful There Is” and “Delusions of Grandma,” before abandoning the pretense of fiction altogether in favor of unvarnished memoir, with “Shockaholic” (2011) and “Wishful Drinking” (2008).

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

“You can’t make up this stuff!” Fisher told Rolling Stone in 2015. “So I’m stuck writing it. I mean, it’s incredible. Stuff happens and you think, no one will believe this – no one.”

She was, by her own admission, an enfant terrible who never learned 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. After 11 months, they were divorced.

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

“I turn people gay,” Fisher told the Baltimore Sun in 2012. “That’s what I do. It is an unusual superpower.”

In the 1980s, she dated a U.S. senator whose name she did not divulge.

“I was shown the Supreme Court and taken to dinner,” she told The Washington Post in 1987, “and I said at one point, ‘So, how many senators are there, actually?’ I told my mother that later and she said, ‘Oh darling, I’m so ashamed of you. Everyone knows there’s one per state.’ “

In 2005, Fisher – a staunch Democrat – woke up in bed alongside the dead body of a friend who was a gay Republican political operative named R. Gregory Stevens. The autopsy listed cocaine and oxycodone use as the cause of death.

Despite the relentless drama of her life, Fisher maintained a steady acting career, appearing in more than 40 films and dozens of TV productions. Her first movie role came in “Shampoo” (1975), in which – still in her teens – she had a sultry seduction scene with Warren Beatty.

Two years later, “Star Wars” changed Fisher’s life. She portrayed Princess Leia as an alluring, resourceful and innocent combination of Little Orphan Annie and Joan of Arc – with her hair worn in coils on each side of her head.

The on-screen chemistry between Fisher, then 19, and Ford, who played the dashing Han Solo, was enhanced by the torrid off-screen romance she had with the then-33-year-old married actor.

“It was Han and Leia during the week,” Ms. Fisher told People magazine in November, “and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend.”

She reprised her Princess Leia role in “The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and “Return of the Jedi” (1983), but as the “Star Wars” franchise became entrenched in pop culture, her reviews grew increasingly hostile.

“She’s no longer a commander,” critic David Ansen wrote in Newsweek, “just a whisky-voiced damsel in distress in a harem outfit.”

Nonetheless, the “Star Wars” franchise has inspired armies of ardent fans, who have kept Fisher in a sometimes unwelcome spotlight.

“You’re not just an actor in this movie,” she said in 2015, “you’re a diplomat to a country you didn’t know existed.”

During the 1980s, she appeared in other films, most notably as a vengeful love interest of John Belushi’s 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 best friend in “When Harry Met Sally” (1989).

Those were also the years when Fisher’s indulgence in drugs reached a high (or low) point. She went to rehab and a mental hospital. Then, after an overdose, came the episode in which she gave her phone number to the doctor who pumped her stomach.

“There is not one area of sensationalism,” she said when she was 30, “that I have not wandered into and trespassed wildly.”

Carrie Frances Fisher was born 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” and in “Tammy and the Bachelor” (1957), “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964) and “The Singing Nun” (1966).

Her father, a crooning teen idol with 17 Top 10 hits between 1950 and 1956, was the host of two TV variety shows that ran from 1953 to 1959.

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.

Fisher left Reynolds and their two young children and, in 1959, married Taylor, creating one of the most notorious scandals in Hollywood history. Carrie was 2 at the time.

“I thought everybody had stepmothers living in bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel wearing negligees,” she said in 2011.

Reynolds later married an older businessman named Harry Karl, who squandered his wife’s money before they ended up in divorce court.

“I grew up watching my mother do the show-must-go-on thing to a ridiculous extreme,” Fisher told the Baltimore Sun.

At 13, Fisher 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.”

(“I don’t care what you’ve heard,” Fisher wrote in “Wishful Drinking,” “chorus work is more valuable to a child than any education could ever be.”)

Fisher 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.

“I knew better than I knew anything that what happens with stardom, with fame,” she said in a 2006 interview with NPR, “is it goes away, and it leaves you in a humiliated space.”

From an early age, Fisher was a devoted reader and journal-keeper, even when her life was in turmoil. She relied on the journals for her books, including “Postcards From the Edge” and her memoirs, including 2016’s “The Princess Diarist,” about her experiences on “Star Wars.”

In 2015, she appeared with Ford, Mark Hamill and other members of the original cast in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which became a global box-office smash. Another sequel is scheduled for release in 2017.

Fisher 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.”

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

Meanwhile, Fisher and her mother soldiered on together like an old, squabbling vaudeville team. A documentary about their intertwined lives, “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” is scheduled to appear on HBO in 2017.

At last, Fisher gets top billing.


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