The prompt Write about a celebrity death that hit you hard. Why do you think it impacted you the way it did? sent me back through the archives of the blog, and I landed on a Stream of Consciousness Saturday entry I wrote on New Year’s Eve 2016. I was doing a recap of the year, and I mentioned Carrie Fisher had died that Tuesday and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died a day later, on Wednesday.
I remember Carrie’s death really hit me, and I think the reason was I always feel a certain connection with people who were born in 1956, the year I was born. I don’t know if that’s just a peculiarity of mine, or if others feel the same way about people born in their year. But that’s neither here nor there: the fact remains that she had died unexpectedly at only 60 years old.
The problem with celebrity is that everyone knows your problems. We had all heard about Carrie’s drug problem, which, as she (and the rest of us) learned was a result of being bipolar. The cocaine and whatever else she did made her feel better about herself and the world. When we were younger, there was a stigma attached to mental illness: you didn’t talk about it, nor did you admit that you had a problem. You simply put on a false face and dealt with it in a manner that didn’t tell the world there was anything wrong in your head. Being a drunk or a junkie was easier than being a manic-depressive, not to mention more socially acceptable.
Which is really stupid, but that’s how it goes. Hopefully we’ve outgrown that. I’m not holding my breath.
Her last major role in a Hollywood production was as General Leia in one of the later Star Wars episides. It was a reprise of the role she had played 40 years earlier, and she received a lot of flak because she was no longer a slender and attractive 20-year-old woman who looked really good in a gold bikini. A lot of the people who were complaining were men who had also aged considerably, and probably not as gracefully as she had.
I admired Carrie for her ability to adapt. When the offers to be in major motion pictures dwindled to a trickle, she wrote. She wrote four novels, the first being Postcards From The Edge, for which she also wrote the screenplay for the 1990 movie starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. She wrote four nonfiction books and another screenplay, for These Old Broads, which starred her mother, Joan Collins, Shirley MacLaine, and Elizabeth Taylor. She was a sought-after script doctor, cleaning up Sister Act and The Wedding Singer, just to name a couple.
If Carrie’s death came as a surprise, the death of her mother, Debbie Reynolds, was a shock. First, because it happened the day after Carrie’s death, while she was planning her daughter’s funeral. Second, because she seemed to be doing pretty well for a woman her age. I tell the story in the earlier post about the taxi driver who had the honor of driving Ms. Reynolds to an antique show, and showed me the picture she had signed for him. He was a man in his 50’s, and he spoke of her with the same awe that people of my generation spoke of Carrie. And third, Debbie Reynolds was a week younger than my mother, yet another sort of connection.