I don’t know about this Princess Leia business. I never saw any of the “Star Wars” movies, so I never saw Carrie Fisher in the role that made her indelible to millions who now mourn her passing and connect her most passionately to that imaginary character from a fairy tale film.
But her death from a heart attack this week, at age 60, as the old year dies as well, marks the passing of someone whose life should be remembered beyond a movie role.
She was a writer of rare candor, a role model to a generation of women first discovering there was life beyond female stereotype, and a brave voice telling truths about the make-believe world into which she was born.
She was also born into the biggest public scandal of her time, and somehow survived it, and was open enough to admit what an emotional wreck it helped make her.
It’s ironic that, in her most famous role, she was a princess in peril – because that’s precisely how she entered life. She was the daughter of America’s Sweethearts at mid-20th century, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, and arrived just as the royal family was breaking apart.
Growing up in the midst of a divorce is rough on any child. Try doing it as your dad’s running off with Elizabeth Taylor and your mom’s trying to maintain a famously girlish smile through her pain with the whole wide world hungry for every salacious detail.
(Not to mention, it was her Jewish dad deserting his shiksa wife. What’s next, Tony Curtis splitting with Janet Leigh? Is this supposed to be good for the Jews?)
Eventually, Carrie Fisher bravely wrote about all of this, and more. Try reading “Postcards from the Edge.” Try reading “Wishful Drinking.” Pretty brave stuff, and bright and funny, too.
“If those issues are going to be public,” she once told a TV interviewer, “I would rather them to be public the way I’ve experienced them rather than someone else assuming things about me. It’s freeing to do it. Shame is not something I aspire to.”
And always, as in the memoir “Wishful Drinking,” she wrote with honesty and wit.
“I’m very sane,” she wrote, “about how crazy I am.”
The craziness came from a built-in emotional disorder, from the drugs intended to steady her, and the built-in insanity of Hollywood.
For those who remember her mainly as the plucky princess of “Star Wars,” she knew the power of that role – and where it fell short.
“I’m not really one of those actresses like Meryl Streep,” Fisher told a magazine writer. “Those actresses travel outside themselves and play characters. And I’m more of an archaeologist. I play what I am. I dig what I can. It’s a character that’s not too far from myself, except I don’t have any laser guns.”
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press). He is also the author of “The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s” (Johns Hopkins University Press).
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