Carrie Fisher, whom many know simply as Princess Leia, looked at Hollywood as both an insider and an outsider: as a privileged child of two of its most celebrated stars and as a wickedly funny chronicler of its foibles and excesses. Even after her untimely death last year at the age of 60, she made sure she got in one last perfectly calibrated laugh. She dictated that her remains be buried in a giant Prozac-pill urn. “It was a porcelain antique Prozac pill from the ’50s that was one of Carrie’s prized possessions,” her brother Todd told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016.
Fisher died last December 27 after suffering a heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles. She had finished principal photography on the latest Star Wars chapter and had released her latest memoir, The Princess Diarist, in which she revealed what fans had long suspected: an affair with her costar in 1977. In a double shock, the day after she died, her mother died as well.
Fisher was Hollywood royalty from the start, the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. To add a little more Tinseltown drama to her story, when Carrie was two, her father left her mother for her mother’s close friend Elizabeth Taylor. She debuted on Broadway at age 15 and was just 19 when she was cast in a kooky “space opera” with a bunch of other unknowns like Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill and an obsessive writer-director who’d only had one success behind him (American Graffiti). She signed on to George Lucas’s Star Wars because she liked the role of the spirited, fearless Princess Leia, not the typical damsel in distress.
“I don’t know what your idea of distress is, but that wasn’t [it],” Fisher told Rolling Stone in 2015. “I was locked up, but, you know, so were the guys later on. What about them? And also I wasn’t some babe running through the galaxy with my [breasts] bouncing around.”
Star Wars was, as we all now know, an instant critical and commercial hit, though it was surprising at the time. In its first week, it set box-office records for every theater in which it played. It received 11 Academy Award nominations, and took home 7 Oscars, though notably none of those was for the acting. Today Star Wars is the number 2 hit of all time (in adjusted-for-inflation dollars).
Fisher’s role as Princess Leia turned her overnight into a household name: She became an immediate icon for young girls who looked up to her as a powerful role model and a kind of pinup for geeky teenage boys, in a gold metal bikini (which she hated). Many of her classic lines became part of pop culture lingua franca. Think: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” repeated in a hypnotic tone.
Fisher returned to Leia four times: to complete the original trilogy of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983; and in the most recent entrants, Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015 and the most recent entrant to the canon, The Last Jedi.
Fisher wasn’t a shoo-in for the role. In his typical obsessive fashion, Lucas screen-tested many actresses for the part, including Jodie Foster, Sissy Spacek, and Amy Irving.
Her personal life, however, was as turbulent as an intergalactic battle. She fought alcoholism and drug addiction and was open about her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She had an on-again, off-again relationship with the singer Paul Simon, to whom she was briefly married. She later married (and divorced) agent Bryan Lourd, with whom she had a daughter, actress Billie Lourd, who plays Lieutenant Connix in The Last Jedi—in the “cinnamon bun” hairdo Princess Leia wore in the first Star Wars.
And in The Princess Diarist, released just weeks before Fisher’s death, she published the diaries she kept during the filming of the 1977 Star Wars, in which she frets over her affair with co-star Harrison Ford (he was married at the time, and 33 to her 19).
While Fisher continued to appear in films like When Harry Met Sally and Austin Powers, she had a second and just as enduring career as a writer: she wrote novels, memoirs, and screenplays. She managed to make mental illness a subject of good-natured humor in her thinly disguised as fiction Postcards from the Edge, which she also adapted into a screenplay starring Meryl Streep. The New York Times called the 1990 movie “hilarious, gutsy, and merciless.”
Fisher openly joked about her bipolar disorder and her struggles with alcohol and drugs in her 2008 memoir Wishful Drinking, which became a one-woman show: “I thought I would inaugurate a Bipolar Pride Day. You know, with floats and parades and stuff! On the floats we would get the depressives, and they wouldn’t even have to leave their beds.”
After her passing, her Star Wars family noted that what they most missed about their co-star was her friendly good nature. “Carrie just had a great sense of humor,” said Jimmy Vee (R2-D2) at a premiere of The Last Jedi. It’s impossible to see the movie without thinking about her passing, a fitting and fond tribute to one of Hollywood’s most heroic feminist icons: General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance.