2016 has been a remarkably cruel year. A lot of people have suffered in one way or another, and many of them in ways they could never have imagined. In my day job I’m a Counsellor, and from my experiences of interacting with hundreds of people this year while they’re at their most fragile, and from simply being someone on social media seeing what people post, I’ve seen what I’d call a remarkable upswing in personal sadness and tragedy.
On top of all the personal trials and tribulations so many of us have endured, 2016 has taken from us some incredibly bright lights. Most recently, Carrie Fisher.
2016 saw the passing of 46 celebrities to date, names that have defined the entertainment world and many of our lives. Among them, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Jon English, Garry Shandling, Ronnie Corbett, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Leonard Cohen, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael and too many more.
For those of us who literally grew up with Star Wars, playing with the action figures as children in the late 70s and early 80s, reading the comics, collecting the books and cutting out newspaper and magazine articles for our scrapbooks, Carrie Fisher’s death is a devastating and surreal blow.
Only yesterday I was posting on this blog that Carrie was doing better, and now today I’m sitting at my computer with my dog at my feet, writing about the death of my all time favourite actor – and wondering how her beloved companion, Gary, will cope. For those of you who aren’t dog people, our furry friends don’t do well with change and they definitely don’t cope well with losing people.
When I first saw a Star Wars film, it was Empire Strikes Back. I was nine. I saw a new hope after Episode V, so my introduction to Star Wars was a little skew whiff. Because I was raised by a single mother (an incredibly strong woman who had to fight every day for us just to eat) it was the character of Princess Leia Organa that spoke to me. Not Han Solo, not Luke Skywalker, not Boba Fett (which was a thing back then). I was swept away by Leia. Princess Leia was it for me. She was a character whose strength helped get me through some very rough times.
It might sound strange for a man to say that the character he most identified with in Star Wars was a female character, but to me she was stronger than the men, more resilient and more gutsy. Han was cocky and actually reminded me of a few of the bullies I had to contend with, and Luke never became a favourite of mine until much later in my life. Leia was headstrong, confident, hilariously mouthy and unapologetically bold. As a child I used to think that if I could be half as plucky as her, I’d be okay in life.
As I matured, Leia remained my favourite, but my attention turned to the actor behind the character.
Carrie Fisher was many things. Most importantly to me, she was someone who endeavoured to live life. She made a multitude of mistakes and some of them were quite public, but she faced up to them and in doing so changed the world for a lot of people.
Yes, she had a drug addiction, but rather than be victimised or defined by that, she used her fame and her formidable sense of humour to combat her addiction and help others find the courage to do so too. We eventually learned that her addiction was a form of self-medication, because she had BiPolar Mood Disorder. Rather than sink into self pity at her mental health condition, she used her celebrity to advocate for mental health reform and to bring awareness to mental health issues in general. She joked about it, spoke frankly of her struggles, and tried her hardest to live her life.
She turned her experiences into a number of best selling books and gleefully “took the piss” out of herself on multiple occasions. She faced life by facing her fears, and in doing so actually become fearless.
As a writer, an actor, a Counsellor, and someone with a mental health condition, she was an amazing gift to me – like I know she was to so many people.
Right now I’m just numb. I opened up the news at a little after 6am here in Melbourne Australia, to see as the top headline the announcement Carrie was gone and burst into tears. Her death affected me as badly as if it had been a member of my family, and I’m fighting a deep depression as I type this. I’d had my Princess Leia action figures lined up on my bedside table since Carrie’s heart attack, using them as a focus for good thoughts, and I’d been so happy to hear she was improving yesterday. The news she has passed is just too much.
The thing about having been a Counsellor since my early twenties is that whether I want to or not, I’m pretty much programmed to “process”. It’s now 8:30am and I just want to get drunk, but the rational part of my mind is telling me it’s way too early to give into that demon and I need to work through it.
Hopefully my process might help you if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, like I am right now.
Carrie Fisher has passed, but Princess Leia Organa has not, and if the powers that be at Lucasfilm and Disney have a heart, they won’t kill her in Episode VIII or IX because Carrie isn’t able to reprise that role. While that move worked for Spock in Star Trek Beyond as a way if acknowledging Leonard Nimoy’s passing, it won’t work in Star Wars.
Leia is still out there, kicking fascist ass and that’s empowering to me. And Carrie? Her bravery lives on even if she is no longer with us physically. Her example is a good example, and her life was a life lived well. Carrie Fisher accepted herself for who she was, warts and all, and though she battled with severe depression for most of her life she used humour and self reflection to stay afloat and to help others in similar situations stay afloat. She didn’t have to bear her life warts and all for our entertainment. She did it to de-stigmatise addiction and mental health, and as her own way of processing what she was experiencing. Yes, she smoked like a chimney, at one time drank like a fish, struggled with her weight, and in her younger years snorted anything she could get her hands on, but those actions didn’t and don’t define her. What does define her is the person she became and remained after her youthful missteps and her attempts at self-medication.
Carrie was courageous, beautiful, frighteningly intelligent, obnoxious, hilarious, dangerous, relentless, insightful, an unabashed and honest mess, ridiculous, inspirational, obscene, loving, compassionate, effervescent, confronting and powerful.
If each of us could live our lives half as audaciously, we’d probably be a lot happier.
I’ll take Carrie’s example with me, each day, as I confront my own demons and help other people confront theirs.
Thank you, Carrie Fisher, for changing my life and making my world a much brighter place because of your presence in it.
I send my deepest, heart felt condolences to Debbie Reynolds, Carrie’s mum. To Todd Fisher, her brother, and most especially to Billie Lourd, her daughter, and Gary, her companion. While my heart is breaking, I know each of yours is shattered. I hope the love we’re all pouring out for your daughter can in some way help you guys get through this.
This might seem inappropriate, but I’m fairly certain Carrie would appreciate it. Years ago Carrie gave an interview where she reflected on what she’d like people to say when she eventually passed. It went like this:
“Remember the white dress I wore all through that film (Episode IV)? George came up to me the first day of filming, took one look at the dress and said: ‘You can’t wear a bra under that dress.’
“‘Okay, I’ll bite,’ I said. ‘Why?’ And he said: ‘Because… there’s no underwear in space.’
“He said it with such conviction. Like he had been to space and looked around and he didn’t see any bras or panties anywhere.
“He explained. ‘You go into space and you become weightless. Then your body expands but your bra doesn’t, so you get strangled by your own underwear.’
“I think that this would make for a fantastic obituary. I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”
Rest in peace, Carrie. You were a gift and I love you.
Carrie Fisher. She died in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.
Though this powerful woman is no longer with us, her legacy lives on. Long live Princess Leia.