One of the most iconic figures in modern film history is gone. Carrie Fisher, the actress known worldwide for portraying Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars saga and for her second-act reinvention as a novelist, diarist, screenwriter and in-demand script doctor, has died four days after suffering a heart attack Friday on a flight from London to Los Angeles. She was 60.
A family spokesman released a statement on behalf of Fisher’s daughter: “It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother Carrie Fisher passed away at 8:55 this morning. She was loved by the world, and she will be missed profoundly.”
An icon to generations of film fans and in recent decades an almost fanatically adored public wit, Fisher had a heart attack Friday on a Los Angeles-bound flight from London and had been in intensive care at a UCL.A Medical Center.
The daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds — whose marriage and tumultuous divorce made headlines while she was just a girl — Fisher grew up in Beverly Hills a bookish, reserved child before embarking on an acting career while still in high school. She would make her first prominent acting appearance as a debutante and singer in the 1973 Broadway revival of Irene, which starred her mother. This was followed two years later with an acclaimed appearance in Warren Beatty’s hit comedy Shampoo.
But it was, of course, her second film role that would catapult Fisher to permanent and worldwide fame. Co-starring alongside Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill in the George Lucas-directed Star Wars — since retitled Star Wars: A New Hope — Fisher portrayed Leia Organa, princess, senator and, in last year’s The Force Awakens, general. One of the leaders of the Rebel Alliance, Leia as portrayed by Fisher is a hard-as-nails, uncompromising freedom fighter despite losing her family and homeworld. Fisher would go on to portray Leia in the Star Wars sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983) and The Force Awakens, as well as the much-derided 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. She also had wrapped her role in next year’s Star Wars: Episode VIII.
Although as an actress her non-Star Wars roles were vastly overshadowed by the intergalactic princess, Fisher continued to pursue varied and interesting roles in front of the camera. Among them, she notably appeared in The Blues Brothers (right), The Man with One Red Shoe, Hannah and Her Sisters, When Harry Met Sally … and a slew of other films, often referencing her most well-known role.
She most recently starred with her mom Reynolds in documentary Bright Lights, which premiered at the 54th New York Film Festival. On TV, she had been recurring on Amazon’s Catastrophe as the male lead’s scheming, eBay-addicted mother, and as Angela on Family Guy for more than a decade. Fisher’s other recent TV credits include Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce and The Big Bang Theory, the latter as herself.
The stress of coping with the fame and notoriety of portraying Princess Leia took a heavy toll on her, however, as she developed addictions to drugs and alcohol with which she struggled for years. But her fight to overcome addiction provided Fisher with the inspiration for her reinvention in her 30s as an acclaimed writer. Always outspoken about her battles with drugs and mental health issues, she channeled her experiences into her first novel, the Roman à clef Postcards From The Edge.
Following an actress named Suzanne Vale struggling to put her life back together after a near-fatal drug overdose, the novel drew heavily from Fisher’s battle against addiction, her relationship with her mother and even her difficulties with her most famous role. It was an immediate success, acclaimed for its frankness, intimacy and the use of changing points of view to illustrate the main character’s state of mind while recovering. The book was adapted into a 1990 film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, directed by Mike Nichols and scripted by Fisher. She would write four other novels, including Surrender the Pink and The Best Awful There Is.
She also has authored three memoirs and was on a promotional tour for her latest, The Princess Diarist, about the behind-the-scenes goings-on on the set of Star Wars and its first two sequels and her affair with Harrison Ford. Last month she appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to discuss the book. “It was too big of a story,” Fisher said when asked why she’s telling the tale after all these years. “It was 40 years ago,” she replied. “If I’d waited 50, I’d have looked worse, so that’s why now is the right time.”
Fisher already had gained some experience with the craft during the original Star Wars trilogy, notably with her now- famous script notes on The Empire Strikes Back. But it was thanks to the success of Postcards and its film adaptation that her second career as writer and script doctor was launched. Among her credited and uncredited work as a script doctor, she worked on Hook, Sister Act, Last Action Hero, Lethal Weapon 3 and The Wedding Singer. She was also said to have worked uncredited on the Star Wars prequels, among other films, and said later in life that for nearly two decades it was a lucrative line of work for her. Fisher also worked as a scriptwriter in her own right, mainly on television including several Academy Awards, the telefilm These Old Broads, episodes of Roseanne and Frasier and more.
Fisher’s very deliberate, total lack of a filter about her experiences and her gift for pithy turns of phrase established her in recent years as a celebrated public wit. Talk show appearances, the occasional celebrity roast, even film junkets were opportunities for her to drop an instantly quotable line. For instance, during the Los Angeles Force Awakens junket in 2015, when she said about her costume in the film, “I have a kind of classy gas station attendant look.”
But it wasn’t just as a hilarious Hollywood elder stateswoman that Fisher used her gifts as a writer and communicator. Her brassy, filter-free style was was used to great effect with her openness about her struggle with substance abuse and mental illness, and as such she became an important voice for normalizing people experiencing the same issues. Able to describe her own harrowing experiences in hilarious detail, she also was unapologetic, compassionate and frank. Her efforts to destigmatize addiction and mental illness earned her a lifetime achievement award from Harvard College in 2016 for cultural humanitarianism — in addition, of course, to the thanks and admiration of her fans.
Fisher was married once, to singer-songwriter Paul Simon, and was partnered with talent agent Bryan Lourd, the father of her daughter Billie.