American Sharpwit: Carrie Fisher, Remembered

Carrie Fisher, the boundary-busting feminist powerhouse who hurled tons of talent at every medium she tackled, tragically died of a heart attack on Dec 27.

2016 just refuses to quit f*cking with us, this time striking down iconic “Star Wars” actress, prolific writer and feminist hero Carrie Fisher with a fatal heart attack at the age of just 60.

Fisher became indelibly linked with the character of Princess Leia, the rebel leader she portrayed in four “Star Wars” films, but she made her mark on the world in countless other courageous and unforgettable ways. Born into a prominent Hollywood family (the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher), the famously quick-witted Fisher forged a kaleidoscopic career as not only an actress, but the genius behind brilliant memoirs; myriad screenplays; reworked classic movie scripts; a one-woman show; and, most recently, a tempest of a Twitter account that recounted her globe-trotting adventures with her adorable pooch, Gary.

Fisher was a comedic wunderkind and a bold feminist voice who blasted her musings through a metaphorical megaphone: She used her celebrity to cut through the B.S. and wryly “tell it like it is” on issues ranging from feminism, ageism and body-shaming in Hollywood to alcoholism, addiction and mental illness—all with her signature brand of razor-tongued, self-deprecating gallows humor; irresistible candor; and a palpable lust for life.

Fisher was, in particular, a fierce advocate for raising awareness and reducing the stigma around mental illness. She was one of the first celebrities to “come out” (so to speak) as a sufferer of mental illness, and spoke and wrote frequently and frankly about her struggles with bipolar disorder and substance abuse, as well as her experiences with electroconvulsive therapy. The New York Times revealed that, “She gave her dueling dispositions the nicknames Roy (‘the wild ride of a mood,’ she said) and Pam (‘who stands on the shore and sobs’).” She channeled her battles with depression and addiction into raw, emotionally honest and hilarious projects, including the semiautobiographical novel “Postcards From the Edge” and her one-woman show, “Wishful Drinking,” which she later adapted into a memoir. As news of Fisher’s death spread on Tuesday, a makeshift community of fans formed via various social media platforms, through which people reflected on Fisher’s legacy and shared their own personal stories of coping with mental illness. 

A fierce feminist and LGBT advocate, Carrie often poked fun at herself for having married a gay man (ex-husband Bryan Lourd, with whom she had daughter, Billie) and laughed off lesbian rumors when gossip columnists claimed she was dating longtime friend Penny Marshall. (“I turn people gay,” she joked with the Baltimore Sun in 2012. “That’s what I do. It is an unusual superpower.”) And while the world remained very invested in her personal life, Carrie controlled the messaging, only allowing voyeurs to peek into her world from her perspective, which may not have been exactly what some of her fans wanted to hear or see from a woman they most often pictured in a bikini.

Throughout her all-too-short life, Fisher unapologetically skewered people, social memes and institutions she viewed as purveyors of injustice and cultural bias, particularly those who targeted women or the mentally ill. She was a breath of fresh air in a cultural landscape clouded with political correctness and suffocating from a “sweep it under the rug” mentality. She was an enigma; a sarcastic yet still somehow so pleasant personality—a woman who said the kinds of things many might barely let themselves think, let alone release into the world. This quality, among many others, made Carrie special. Her willingness to expose herself as someone so flawed, so human—and yet never curse herself for it—offered others the opportunity to do the same; to accept themselves and own their personal struggles. She made us all a little less afraid to be who we are, because she consistently pushed through her own fears and troubles to share her journey toward loving and accepting who she was.

Because Fisher was that smart, that funny and that honest, she was also delightfully and particularly quotable. Below, we’ve dug up some of her most thought-provoking witticisms on life and being a woman, words whose resounding truths reflect the gravity of this loss of a feminist icon—one who always said what she meant, and always meant what she said.

CARRIE FISHER ON AGEISM AND BODY SHAMING

“Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well. Unfortunately, it hurts all three of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.”

“What I didn’t realize, back when I was this 25-year-old pinup for geeks…was that I had signed an invisible contract to stay looking the exact same way for the next 30 to 40 years. Well, clearly I’ve broken that contract.”

“Youth and beauty are not accomplishments. They’re the temporary bi-products of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.”

“They want to hire part of me, not all of me. They want to hire three fourths, so I have to get rid of the fourth somehow. The ‘fourth’ can’t be with me. I made a joke!” [on being asked to lose weight for “The Force Awakens”]

ON LIVING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”

“Oh! This’ll impress you—I’m actually in the Abnormal Psychology textbook. Obviously, my family is so proud. Keep in mind, though, I’m a PEZ dispenser and I’m in the abnormal Psychology textbook. Who says you can’t have it all?”

ON TRUMP

“So you have to be attractive to be groped uninvited by Trump. Finally! A reason to want to be ugly!”

ON FEMINISM AND FEMALE STEREOTYPES

“I got to be the only girl in an all boy fantasy, and it’s a great role for women. [Princess Leia] is a very proactive character and gets the job done. So if you’re going to get typecast as something, that might as well be it for me.”

“It’s hard to date once you’re a big Star Wars star, because you don’t want to give people the ability to say, I had sex with Princess Leia’.”

“You know, it’s this thing about women: even in space, there’s a double standard.” [on why Princess Leia never got her own light saber]

“Movies are dreams! And they work on you subliminally. You can play Leia as capable, independent, sensible, a soldier, a fighter, a woman in control—control being, of course, a lesser word than master. But you can portray a woman who’s a master and get through all the female prejudice if you have her travel in time, if you add a magical quality, if you’re dealing in fairy-tale terms.”

“She has no friends, no family; her planet was blown up in seconds—along with her hairdresser—so all she has is a cause. From the first film, she was just a soldier, frontline and center. The only way they knew to make the character strong was to make her angry.” [on Princess Leia]

“In ‘Return of the Jedi,’ she gets to be more feminine, more supportive, more affectionate. But let’s not forget that these movies are basically boys’ fantasies. So the other way they made her more female in this one was to have her take off her clothes.” [on Princess Leia]

ON LIFE, CELEBRITY AND SELF-ACCEPTANCE

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

“Because I grew up in a public family, I never really had a private life. And so if those issues are going to be public, I would rather them to be public the way I’ve experienced them rather than someone else assuming things about me. It’s freeing to do it. Shame is not something I aspire to.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

“Once it was proposed to me that it was all right to be like I am, I finally quit apologizing for it.”

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

“You know what’s funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You’d think we could remember finding out we weren’t immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, ‘Aww. They’ve just been told.’”

“I heard someone say once that many of us only seem able to find heaven by backing away from hell. And while the place that I’ve arrived at in my life may not precisely be everyone’s idea of heavenly, I could swear sometimes—I hear angels sing.” 

We hope you’re hearing them now. Rest in peace, Princess.