Carrie Fisher once said, “I am Princess Leia, no matter what… Princess Leia will be on my tombstone." She quipped that “Leia follows me like a vague smell.” A character that many young actresses would consider to be the role of a lifetime had, in the eyes of many, become the life story of Carrie Fisher.
Even aspects of Fisher’s life prior to her taking on the role of Princess Leia seem to suggest that she was destined to be a star. She was born the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. Their marriage didn’t last, but Fisher and Reynolds still maintained a relationship over the years. In fact, Fisher worked alongside her mother on the Broadway show Irene in 1973. When the work got in the way of Fisher’s education, Fisher decided to drop out of high school and enrol in the London Central School of Speech and Drama.
It was a bold move, but fortune eventually favored her by putting her in a position to accept the aforementioned role of a lifetime. Of course, it wasn’t necessarily the role of a lifetime back then. Very few people believed that Star Wars was going to be anything more than a niche genre film, but Fisher was among those who touted the potential of the script. Fisher herself summarized the scope of Star Wars’ success best in her book The Princess Diarist when she said that “This movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theater, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected to it."
While the eventual success of Star Wars raises the appeal of playing Princess Leia from an outsiders’ perspective, Fisher has previously expressed a different point of view. She once told Matt Lauer that had she known what Star Wars was going to turn into, “I would have never have done it!” Then again, she also expressed that she has “sort of melded with [Princess Leia] over time.”
Perhaps that’s why the people’s history of Carrie Fisher sometimes summarizes her post-Star Wars career as a missed opportunity. Fisher would go on to appear in such classic films as The Blues Brothers, When Harry Met Sally, and The Burbs, but she never did play another character that would achieve anything near the fame that Princess Leia enjoys. Fisher had the chance to play Suzanne, the lead character in the 1990 film Postcards From the Edge, but turned the opportunity down. Later, Fisher commented that she declined to star in the film because “I’ve already played Suzanne.”
Of course, that makes sense given that Postcards From the Edge was based on Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. The events of that book detail the life of an actress whose substance abuse problems have ruined what could have been a promising career. It is a slightly fictionalized snapshot of the life that Fisher lived during and after her time as Princess Leia. It’s also a time period a lot of fans don’t like to talk about.
Fisher, however, has never seemed to be at a loss for words regarding her struggles. In fact, her brutal honesty regarding her battles with bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and fame, in general, have always seemed to catch people off-guard. Admittedly, there is something shocking about hearing Princess Leia tell New York Magazine that anyone who compares her body to Elton John’s can “blow my big bovine tiny dancer c***.”
While Fisher once attributed her avoidance of suicidal thoughts to drugs, it’s always seemed like it was Fisher’s humor that allowed her to cope with whatever it was she may have endured during the hardships of her life. She always looked inward to her well-traveled soul and seemed to find the perfect words to say. From musing that she feels “very sane about how crazy I am” to revealing her sarcastic ambition to “get the centerfold in Psychology Today,” Fisher proved to be an interviewer’s dream; the rare breed of star that never felt the needed to be prodded too hard in order to open up.
Her humor is also what saved her from a career as the worst Hollywood stereotype: the “faded star desperate for fame.” Incidents both fictional and all-too-real have led us to believe that those who once lived in the spotlight are doomed to tales of tragedy and sorrow as soon as they are removed from it. The popular belief is that these faded stars can only be redeemed by finding that one role which propels them back into the big-time. It’s why some fans say that Iron Man saved Robert Downey Jr. like the superhero himself swooped down from the heavens and rescued the actor from a raging inferno.
Fisher was different. She, like Princess Leia, never seemed to be fond of the idea that she needed a role, or anyone else for that matter, to come along and save her. She was perfectly willing to toy with people’s expectations of what they expected her to be, if for no other reason to highlight the absurdity of the idea that fame should lament someone else’s vision of what could have been.
Besides, even the best of screenwriters could have never crafted a character quite so compelling as the person that Carrie Fisher became. In her darkest moments, she still shed light on what it means to be human. She came into many of our lives via a starring role in our childhood memories and stayed there because of her ability to laugh alongside us at what life has in store for those who dare to live it.