A remarkably candid biography of the remarkably candid—and brilliant—Carrie Fisher
In her 2008 bestseller, Girls Like Us, Sheila Weller—with heart and a profound feeling for the times—gave us a surprisingly intimate portrait of three icons: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. Now she turns her focus to one of the most loved, brilliant, and iconoclastic women of our time: the actress, writer, daughter, and mother Carrie Fisher.
Weller traces Fisher’s life from her Hollywood royalty roots to her untimely and shattering death after Christmas 2016. Her mother was the spunky and adorable Debbie Reynolds; her father, the heartthrob crooner Eddie Fisher. When Eddie ran off with Elizabeth Taylor, the scandal thrust little Carrie Frances into a bizarre spotlight, gifting her with an irony and an aplomb that would resonate throughout her life.
We follow Fisher’s acting career, from her debut in Shampoo, the hit movie that defined mid-1970s Hollywood, to her seizing of the plum female role in Star Wars, which catapulted her to instant fame. We explore her long, complex relationship with Paul Simon and her relatively peaceful years with the talent agent Bryan Lourd. We witness her startling leap—on the heels of a near-fatal overdose—from actress to highly praised, bestselling author, the Dorothy Parker of her place and time.
Weller sympathetically reveals the conditions that Fisher lived with: serious bipolar disorder and an inherited drug addiction. Still, despite crises and overdoses, her life’s work—as an actor, a novelist and memoirist, a script doctor, a hostess, and a friend—was prodigious and unique. As one of her best friends said, “I almost wish the expression ‘one of a kind’ didn’t exist, because it applies to Carrie in a deeper way than it applies to others.”
Sourced by friends, colleagues, and witnesses to all stages of Fisher’s life, Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge is an empathic and even-handed portrayal of a woman who—as Princess Leia, but mostly as herself—was a feminist heroine, one who died at a time when we need her blazing, healing honesty more than ever
I sat down with Sheila Weller s a New York Times bestselling author and award-winning magazine journalist who has has captured the creative force (“May the creative force be with you”) of Fishers’s life, triumphs, demons, loves, and losses.
What made you pick Carrie Fisher?
I was always a fan and admirer and I adored the revolutionary book WISHFUL DRINKING, was aware of the glamour and significance of the Carrie-Penny Marshall parties, and was sympathetically aware of her “demons” — about which she was so healingly honest: inherited propensity to drug addiction and bipolar disorder. I grew up in Beverly Hills (I am older than she is) — in a non-celebrity but an “industry” family (my uncle owned the glamorous Sunset Strip nightclub Ciro’s; my mother was a movie magazine editor and writer), and we also happened to have our own version of the Eddie-Debbie-Liz imbroglio: beautiful woman who is kind of “in” the family comes in and steals away the husband and the wife is in great pain. So I knew the milieu and some of the circumstances of her early life. I admired her switch from primarily acting to largely writing, with acting (and script doctoring) as well.
When she died, on Dec. 27, 2016 (Debbie’s death on the close heels of her own making it all rather Biblically poignant), there was such an outpouring of grief, love and awe that her significance was magnified — and glittering. She was a “badass” feminist heroine (her sensibility influenced and dovetailed with that of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer and was important when, in summer 2015, the first rumblings of feminism in Hollywood started) hiding in plain sight. Not even hiding — OUT there!
Girls who weren’t even born when the first STAR WARS came out were lofting Princess Leia posters at the Women;s Marches. For so many reasons — her family’s significance in personifying perfect “’50s” life and then personifying its shattering; her fame in STAR WARS; her significance as the Dorothy Parker of her time and place as a chronicler and analyst of Hollywood; her personal magnetism and personification of the new tough, feisty feminism (and Princess Leia herself was a feisty feminist): the times cried out for a biography of Carrie.
Why do think Carrie Fisher meant so much to so many people?
For all the above reasons but, overwhelmingly and most appreciated, because of her no-holds-barred honesty about herself. Self-deprecating, witty, that kind of utter utter candor is so rare! And here is was, parading itself just before the election of a man who personified dishonesty as a virtue. As i was writing the book and when it came out people said, over and over to me, “I love Carrie Fisher!” Everyone from STAR WARS fans to the most high barred feminists who would never take an illegal drug. People adored her for her courage to tell the truth about herself even if it didn’t show her in the most flattering or even partly correct light, Honesty like that is healing and relieving and admirable.
One of the things I find fascinating, Carrie Fisher was a script doctor. What were some of the films she worked on?
Hook, by Steven Spielberg. The Wedding Singer. One of the Lethal Weapons (believe it or not). Sister Act. Many more! She was considered the best script doctor in Hollywood.
Mother daughter relationships are so complex. Sometimes mothers become daughters and vice versa. Tell us about Debbie and Carrie…
Absolutely complex !!!
When Carrie was a child and pre-teen she wanted more time with her charismatic, bubbly, so-pretty, always working mother than she was able to get. (Debbie hewed to Studio System rules — she worked all the time!) She felt she had to share her mother with the public. She also felt, she said, not as pretty as her mother — and out-done by Debbie’s charisma.
Debbie put Carrie in her Vegas shows — a mixed bag for Carrie, who didn’t want to be a singer (though she had a wonderful voice) because her parents were that…but who enjoyed the thrill of entertaining (even though she had terrible stage fright before most shows).
Debbie was always aware that Carrie was the “complex” child (this was her nascent bipolar disorder – undiagnosed and unnamed) while Todd was the easygoing one, and Debbie felt protective and worried about Carrie.
As a teen, Carrie left Beverly High School in her junior year to accompany her money-strapped mother to NY to play in the chorus of the play her mother starred in, IRENE. This was also a mixed bag for Carrie — she was second fiddle to her mother and painfully aware of her mother’s vulnerability to men who took her mother and were bad for her (exhibit A: Harry Karl).
During Carrie’s year at the London School of Speech and Drama — which Carrie enjoyed and got a lot out of — she instigated a kind of cold period in terms of her relationship with Debbie; she needed to separate from her mother, and this pained Debbie.
The relationship continued complexly in a do-si-do of closeness and apartness, but from the middle to certainly the ends of their lives they were very close and mutually admiring. They supported each other’s careers and supported one another emotionally (Debbie to Carrie) and financially (Carrie to Debbie). Carrie came to greatly admire her mother’s pluck and courage. She would often say, “My mother is my husband.” They came to live together in neighboring houses on a compound in Coldwater Canyon and had the closest relationship, exhibited in the wonderful documentary BRIGHT LIGHTS.
Toward the end of their lives, Carrie cared for her mother, who was beset with illnesses. It was very touching. They came full circle with one another.
What was it about Carrie Fisher that drew you in?
I think I answered that question earlier. And here are more reasons: Her magnetism, honesty, belovedness, ability to be a charismatic but deeply caring friend to so many major people in the industry and the intelligentsia community (and people “on the street”). Her wit and healing honesty (she relieved so many women — midlife, especially — who had issues of weight and age shaming and crazy families, like she had, and were relieved to find a celebrity counterpart) — and the fact that i knew her milieu and had an eerily similar dramatic blow-up in my own family.
The world was shocked on the timing of Debbie Reynolds death. Do you think Debbie died of a broken heart?
In a word, yes. She was very ill and kind of waiting to go, anyway. Carrie’s death was a gentle prod.
I would imagine when you do so much research om a person you connect with the spiritually. Has Carrie ever visited you in your dreams?
No. But maybe she will! 🙂
Sheila Weller will be discussing her new book Saturday Nov 23 at the Jefferson Market Library, First Floor
See the info here https://www.nypl.org/events/programs/2019/11/23/carrie-fisher-conversation