It’s never easy when your cultural heroes pass into the great beyond, and 2016 has been particularly brutal in that regard. First, we lost pop music icon David Bowie to cancer last January. Then, just as we were starting to get over that tragedy, yet another one reared its ugly head in April as an overdose on fentanyl claimed the life of Prince, the genre-defying, multi talented artist that changed music forever. The pain didn’t stop there, however, as one by one, we’ve lost legends like Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, and George Michael. But the most shocking loss, at least for me, is the news that on December 27th, 2016, Hollywood actress, screenwriter, and author Carrie Fisher died from complications with cardiac arrest.
Days prior, it was reported that, while on tour promoting her new memoir, The Princess Diarist, Fisher suffered a heart attack on her plane and needed to be quickly resuscitated. Her family reported her to be in stable condition, making the news of her passing even more abrupt. It serves as a sad bookend to a year that was seemingly filled with death. Many celebs and public figures expressed heartbreak undoubtedly shared by family, friends, and fans of the actress:
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) December 27, 2016
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) December 27, 2016
I thought I had got what I wanted under the tree. I didn’t. In spite of so many thoughts and prayers from so many. I am very, very sad.
— Anthony Daniels (@ADaniels3PO) December 27, 2016
There are no words for this loss. Carrie was the brightest light in every room she entered. I will miss her dearly. pic.twitter.com/GgIeYGeMt9
— Peter Mayhew (@TheWookieeRoars) December 27, 2016
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) December 27, 2016
Carrie Fisher spoke openly about her struggles w mental health. To me she was a hero – not only in the stars – but here on Earth as well. 💔
— Hannah Hart (@harto) December 27, 2016
I’m deeply saddened at the news of Carrie’s passing. She was a dear friend, whom I greatly respected and admired. The force is dark today!
— Billy Dee Williams (@realbdw) December 27, 2016
To anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock since 1977, Carrie Fisher needs no introduction. Fisher spent her early years reading literature and poetry before making her film debut in 1975’s romantic comedy satire Shampoo. Two years later, she would begin her stratospheric rise to stardom with her portrayal of Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars and its two sequels The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi (now Episodes IV, V, and VI, respectively). After the Star Wars trilogy, she also starred in several films throughout the years, including The Blues Brothers (1980), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Scream 3 (2000), last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and even her own self-made documentaries, including Wishful Drinking (2010), and Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (2016).
She was also an accomplished author, known for writing autobiographies with slightly fictionalized events based on her own life, the most well known of which being Postcards from the Edge in 1987, followed later on by Surrender the Pink (1990), Delusions of Grandma (1993), Hollywood Moms (2001), and The Best Awful There Is (2004). In addition to all that, Fisher also managed to squeeze in some screenwriting work, including the 1990 film Postcards from the Edge, a film adaption based on her novel of the same name, and These Old Broads (2001), starring her own mother, Debbie Reynolds. She also shared her script doctoring talents (though uncredited) with several well-known films, including Hook (1991), Lethal Weapon 3 (1992), Sister Act (1992), Last Action Hero (1993), The Wedding Singer (1998), and, in a fitting twist of fate, even contributed some ideas to the Star Wars prequel trilogy (1999-2005).
Perhaps the most meaningful of Carrie Fisher’s contributions to our world is her work to fight mental illness, addiction, and the damaging, judgmental stigmas that are all too often attached to them. Having battled with conditions like depression and bipolar disorder for most of her life, Fisher chose to publically speak out about her struggles, which is admirable considering that mental health issues are not well understood or taken seriously even today, so one can imagine how daunting that must have been back in the 80’s. She undoubtedly inspired millions struggling with mental disorders to hold on for just a little bit longer, and that’s something special.
It feels like people always say this when celebrities they look up to die, but I still never imagined (though I knew, deep down) that I would live to see Carrie Fisher pass on. After all, this was someone that, in her own way, had a regular presence in my household. I’ve loved Star Wars for as far back as I can remember having the mental capacity to consume and enjoy movies and television. The adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa in “the galaxy far, far, away” are a cultural cornerstone of my generation that shaped my imagination like no other story. I loved and cherished these characters deeply, and in turn, even if I never realized it before, loved and cherished the actors who birthed these characters through their performances. Princess Leia Organa was an intelligent, beautiful, and strong rebel leader that was just as indispensible (if not moreso) in the fight against the Empire as her male peers that she fought alongside. I will be eternally grateful to Carrie Fisher for that. I understand there was far more to her life than Star Wars, but those are the constraints in which I remember her most fondly, so I must mention it. The fact that she was also an amazing human being in real life simply makes me wish I could have had the privilege of meeting her myself.
Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher. I may not have known you, but you were indeed a part of my life, and so…I will miss you. As will the world.