The world mourned when Carrie Fisher died unexpectedly from a suspected heart attack in December 2016. She was, of course, known best for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. But for many others, Fisher was also a talented writer, performer and raconteur. And as such, when it came time for her obituary to be written, she insisted on a particularly quirky inclusion.
Fisher had been incredibly busy in 2016; in addition to reprising her role as Leia in the newly released Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie, she’d also starred in a number of episodes in the U.K. TV comedy Catastrophe. And if that wasn’t enough, she was also publicizing her latest memoir: The Princess Diarist. But it wasn’t just her professional life that was hectic.
On top of Fisher’s work schedule, she was also facing difficulty in her personal life. Her elderly mother had struggled with health issues since late 2015 and had suffered two strokes. Talking of the period, Fisher told NPR in the following November, “It was just the year from hell.”
In December 2016 Fisher was wrapping up her European book tour, with the U.K as her final stop before returning to L.A. for Christmas. Despite felling unwell, she appeared on The Graham Norton Show early that month. A couple of weeks later, she made her final British TV appearance on Channel 4’s 8 Out of 10 Cats. Then the next night, her final in London, she had dinner with friends.
Fisher’s meal with her pals broke up at around 11:15 p.m. At that point, the actress explained that she had a flight to catch the next morning and subsequently retired to her room. But it was while on the Los Angeles-bound plane that she suffered a suspected heart attack just 15 minutes before landing. Despite being placed on a ventilator after arriving at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the actress died four days later. She was just 60 years old.
When Fisher passed she was one of the world’s most well-known celebrities. But she was already pretty famous when she was born in 1956 – thanks to her showbiz parents. Her mom, Mary Frances “Debbie” Reynolds, had already won America’s heart in Singin’ in the Rain. Her dad, Edwin Jack “Eddie” Fisher, was one of the biggest recording artists of the early 1950s before he moved into acting. The pair had married in 1955, but the relationship didn’t last.
Following the death of Mike Todd, Elizabeth Taylor’s then-husband, Reynolds discovered that Eddie and Taylor had been having an affair. And with their daughter only around two years old at the time, the pair divorced. The little girl wouldn’t really see her father again until she was an adult, when the pair allegedly ingested cocaine together.
Elsewhere, the young Fisher had experienced a somewhat difficult childhood and would fight with her mother. Retreating into poetry and literature, the future star became the family bookworm. But her showbiz genes soon began to shine through and by the age of 13 she was giving performances at friends’ parties. Then two years later Fisher’s mom convinced her to act alongside her in a number of different roles.
In 1973 Fisher starred with her mom on Broadway in the musical Irene. And not only did the show earn several award nominations for Reynolds, it also kickstarted her daughter’s career, too. Having dropped out of Beverly Hills High School to perform in the show, Fisher then spent 18 months studying in the U.K. at the Central School of Speech and Drama. But before long, Hollywood came knocking.
In 1975 Fisher made her big-screen debut in Shampoo – playing opposite Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie and Warren Beatty. Having transferred her education to New York’s Sarah Lawrence College, the future star left before graduating to concentrate on acting. And then the next year, she landed the role that would change her life.
Fisher got the part of Princess Leia Organa in George Lucas’ first Star Wars instalment in 1976. “[That] little science fiction film,” as she described it to the Daily Mail, catapulted the then-20-year-old to global superstardom. According to reports, she’d later joke, “In the street, they yell, ‘Hey Princess!’ which makes me feel like a poodle.”
Of course, the movies didn’t just ignite Fisher’s career, they also became one of the biggest franchises of all time. And Leia became a feminist icon, sporting some classic looks – including a hair do which she used to describe as “hairy earphones.” But it’s the white dress that Fisher wore in the first film that caused some consternation – on the set, at least.
According to a 2017 Vanity Fair magazine piece, Fisher once recounted a conversation with Lucas about underwear in the galaxy. The star said, “George comes up to me the first day of filming and he takes one look at me and says, ‘You can’t wear a bra with that dress.’ So, I say, ‘Okay, I’ll bite. Why?’ And he says, ‘Because… There’s no underwear in space.’”
Lucas’ throwaway comment about underwear in space would lead Fisher to make a bizarre request for her obituary, but we’ll come to that later. Her relationship with Star Wars, of course, continued into the following two movies, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Rather puzzlingly, during the latter, the star sports a golden bikini which includes something that looks a lot like a bra.
Fisher’s association with the franchise spanned 40 years, and she returned to the movie series as General Leia Organa in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But the actress didn’t just see success in the sci-fi realm in those early years, she moved on to take a number of other successful movie and TV roles, too.
Fisher played a vengeful ex-girlfriend in the 1980 comedy hit The Blues Brothers. And during filming, she became engaged to co-star Dan Ackroyd. At one point, he even saved her life – performing the Heimlich maneuver when she began to choke on some food. The engagement, however, was short lived, and in 1983 the star married the musician Paul Simon.
Sadly, the pair divorced in 1984, and a year later Fisher was hospitalized after an overdose. A once private addiction which had begun before her time on Star Wars was now painfully public. In addition, the star also discovered she had bipolar disorder. She told Psychology Today in 2001, “Drugs made me feel normal. They contained me.”
Fisher’s life-long struggle with addiction and mental health is well-documented. While recovering from her overdose, she wrote her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Postcards from the Edge. It later became a movie – with Shirley MacLaine and Meryl Streep playing fictionalized versions of the star and her mother. Furthermore, the author herself wrote the script.
Despite Fisher’s health issues, she continued to act – most notably in the Woody Allen-directed Hannah and her Sisters and 1989’s award-winning When Harry Met Sally. During the ‘90s, however, she made only a handful of movie appearances: including 1991’s Soapdish and a cameo part in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery six years later.
In 1992 Fisher gave birth to her only child, daughter Billie, while with her talent agent partner Bryan Lourd. Perhaps as befits the child of Hollywood royalty, Meryl Streep is Billie’s godmother. And the latter has definitely inherited those golden acting genes – having had successful turns in American Horror Story, Scream Queens and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Over the course of the rest of the 1990s and noughties, Fisher also continued to write both novels and memoirs. Her successful books included Delusions of Grandma and Wishful Drinking, which was based on her successful one-woman stage show. She also became a sought-after script-polisher – adding her talents to movies such as The Wedding Singer and Sister Act.
As we mentioned earlier, Fisher made her triumphant return to the Star Wars universe in 2015’s The Force Awakens. The actor would go on to film scenes for a further two movies from the series – both of which were released posthumously. Elsewhere, in 2016 she and her mother appeared in the documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. The flick took an in-depth look at their previously troubled relationship, but it also showed how close the pair had become in recent years.
Not long before the documentary’s release, however, Fisher would suffer a suspected heart attack on a transatlantic flight and pass away four days later in L.A. Her sudden, unexpected passing sent shockwaves around the world, and it prompted Star Wars-themed tributes across the globe. Furthermore, the subsequent obituaries were full of respect at the life that she had packed into just 60 years.
British newspaper The Guardian marveled at Fisher’s ability to transcend her Star Wars fame, claiming that “a less distinctive and eccentric performer” would have struggled. The publication lauded her “bristling humor and intellect” which proved, in its opinion, that “she had rather been slumming it in those trumped-up B-movies.” But the Brits weren’t alone in their love for the woman who played Leia.
The New York Times’ obituary was similarly glowing. It described Fisher as an actress who “brought a rare combination of nerve, grit and hopefulness” to her roles. It mentioned her “Dorothy Parker-like presence on Twitter,” where she, of course, had a huge following.
But while these newspaper obituaries were certainly glowing, they lacked one key ingredient that Fisher herself had insisted upon. One publication, however, had taken the actress’ request and decided to run with it. So, following Fisher’s death, Vanity Fair carefully took the time to explain exactly what she had wanted.
The Vanity Fair obituary gave a brief overview of Fisher’s career before delving back into the history of Star Wars. It then recounted the glorious story we shared earlier, where George Lucas had claimed that there was no underwear in space. However, it turns out that the conversation hadn’t ended there.
According to Vanity Fair magazine, the chat with Lucas had eventually formed part of Fisher’s one-woman show and led to her strange obituary request. The piece then recounted a passage from Wishful Drinking, where she explains the reasoning behind the bra ban. It read, “What happens is, you go to space and you become weightless. So far, so good, right?”
“But,” Fisher goes on, “then your body expands? But your bra doesn’t, so you get strangled by your own bra.” And that apparently is why that particular piece of underwear in banned from space – it’s deadly. But what does this have to do with the star’s obituary? Well, it seems that this factoid had inspired a line that she’d wanted to include in reports of her death.
The thought of deadly space underwear, it seems, tickled Fisher so much that she later wrote in Wishful Drinking, “Now I think this would make for a fantastic obit. So, 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.”
Regardless of Fisher’s plea, Vanity Fair magazine appears to be one of the few major media outlets to have honored this rather bizarre request. Despite the outpouring of love that followed her death, few publications added the star’s chosen cause of death to their reports.
Having printed the deadly bra story in full, honoring Fisher’s request, Vanity Fair magazine then ended the piece simply and effectively. The final sentence read, “As you wish, your Worshipfulness” – underlining the deep respect that the star had earned over the course of her career. But it wasn’t just the press that mourned her loss.
Friends, family and former co-stars also paid tribute to Fisher. In a statement, fellow Star Wars alum Harrison Ford described her as “one of a kind.” Meanwhile, director Stephen Spielberg declared that he’d “always been in awe” of the star and described her as “a force of nature.” And Whoopi Goldberg tweeted that she was “smarter and funnier than anyone had the right to be.” And that really is where this story should have ended; but there was more tragedy to come.
Just a day after Fisher’s death, her mother, with whom she had become to close, suffered a fatal stroke. According to Fisher’s brother Todd, Reynolds had expressed one simple wish shortly before passing. Apparently, she’d said, “I want to be with Carrie.”
Fisher and Reynolds were interred together at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles on December 30, 2016. While the latter was entombed wearing her favorite red dress, the former’s final resting was somewhat different. Having been cremated, Fisher’s family had opted to place her ashes in a huge Prozac capsule. It was, they said, what she would have wanted.
One the night of the funeral, every theater on Broadway went dark for one minute to honor the memories of Fisher and Reynolds. It was here, after all, where the latter had introduced her daughter to the world. Elsewhere, fans across the globe struggled to digest the news of Fisher’s death; but there was one more surprise to come.
In June 2017 the L.A. County coroner released the final report into Fisher’s death. While the cause was undetermined, it seems sleep apnea – where a person stops breathing while asleep – and a fatty build up in her arteries had contributed to her passing. The paperwork, however, also identified some other factors which may or may not have played a part in Fisher’s untimely passing.
Traces of several drugs were found in Fisher’s system, but the authorities couldn’t say whether they’d contributed to her death on the plane that day. This revelation, however, moved the star’s daughter, Billie Lourd, to release a statement. It read, “My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. I know my mom; she’d want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles.”
The drugs revelations didn’t impact on the outpouring of love for Fisher, however. And her frank openness previously about her struggles perhaps softened the blow slightly. But as the star once put it herself, according to the BBC, “There’s a part of me that gets surprised when people think I’m brave to talk about what I’ve gone through. I was brave to last through it.”
And while Fisher is no longer with us physically, her work will be around for years to come. Indeed, with another posthumous appearance in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – which is currently in cinemas at the time of writing – Princess Leia will be inspiring children for generations. But perhaps the star’s legacy was best summed up by Sady Doyle, who penned her thoughts about the actress in an article in L.A. Mag in October 2019. She wrote, “By peeling back the edifice of her glamour and insisting that we meet the messy, flawed woman underneath, Carrie Fisher created her own legend.”