Star Wars has become an international phenomenon, but a long time ago, in a Hollywood far, far away it was a silly script written by a young director, starring young actors that few people had ever heard of. One of those young actors, Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia Organa, was only 19 when Star Wars was filmed, but by the time she died, just this morning, at the age of 60, following a heart attack last week, she was an international icon.
Princess Leia, in her flowing white robe and cinnamon bun hairdo, will always be one of the most recognizable images of the entire Star Wars saga, but it was Fisher’s performance, which drew inspiration from the tough-talking women of Hollywood’s Golden-era, that made her such a beloved character. As portrayed by Fisher, Leia was never the damsel in distress, she was running the show, waiting for her nerdy kid brother and dopey love interest to get with the program—a dynamic that extended to last year’s big-screen return, The Force Awakens. Though her voice had gone ragged with age, Fisher was still recognizably Leia, a General now, not “merely” a Princess. Time had changed her, and time had certainly changed Carrie Fisher.
Fisher grew up in Hollywood, the daughter of actors Debbie Reynolds (nearly as iconic as her daughter would become, due to her role in the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain) and Eddie Fisher, and made her film debut in 1975’s Shampoo. While Star Wars and its sequels would dominate her early film work, she also starred in films as diverse as Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters and Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally.
But Fisher’s real legacy is as a writer and activist for mental health causes. In 1985, after years of self-medicating through drugs and alcohol, Fisher was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. For people struggling with the illness, Fisher was living proof that the disease didn’t have to consume your life. Over the course of her career, Fisher wrote four novels (including her darkly humorous 1987 debut, Postcards from the Edge, a fictionalized account of a 1985 overdose), three memoirs, and three stage plays, and worked as a script doctor on dozens of feature films, including Sister Act, The Wedding Singer, and the Star Wars prequels. Nothing slowed her down.
Emboldened by her life struggles, she became a tireless advocate for others struggling with the same issues. “Because I grew up in a public family,” she said, I never really had a private life. And so if those issues are going to be public, I would rather them to be public the way I’ve experienced them rather than someone else assuming things about me.”
Equally legendary in Hollywood, and in fandom, was her sarcastic wit and “fuck –it-all” attitude that made her so unpredictable. Witness the incredible scene that she made at last year’s premiere of The Force Awakens, as Fisher takes charge of the interview, and completely runs it off the rails, confounding co-star Oscar Isaac and daughter Billie Lourd, and causing an off-screen producer to throw up his hands in resignation.
To the end, Carrie Fisher was who she was, and not anybody else’s idea of a woman, or an actress, or a writer, or a feminist. In a galaxy of stars, she still shines brightest.