Carrie Fisher, who died December 27 at the age of 60, was best known for her iconic, kickass performance as Star Wars’ Princess Leia. But Fisher also had an equally kickass, incredibly successful career as a writer, script doctor, and mental health advocate, not to mention as a fantastic performer in works that weren’t related to the film franchise that made her (most) famous.
I was lucky enough to see Fisher’s one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, in 2008. I’ve never forgotten how brutally funny and insightful she was about her struggles with bipolar disorder, addiction, and life in the spotlight. It’s awful that we’ll never get to see the follow-up to that project — which she was just about to start work on when she died, and which would have been called “Wishful Drinking Strikes Back: From Star Wars to, uh, Star Wars!”
This is how Carrie Fisher most deserves to be remembered: unapologetically herself, wryly self-deprecating, and brilliantly, fearlessly open. And the easiest way to remember her like this is to experience her talent firsthand — by watching, reading, and listening to Fisher at her non-Star Wars best. Here are nine examples, in no particular order.
Her one-woman show and memoir, Wishful Drinking
Fisher once famously said that no matter how she actually died, she wanted her obituary to read that she “drowned in moonlight, strangled by [her] own bra.” (It was a joke made at the expense of Star Wars director George Lucas, who apparently once insisted to Fisher that you can’t wear bras in space because they’d strangle you in zero-gravity.)
That line, and a treasure trove of other pull-no-punches gems, is from Wishful Drinking, which Fisher debuted as a one-woman stage show in 2006 and adapted into a memoir in 2008. It’s worth your time to pick up the book, or to watch a full taping of the show here if you have HBO. At the very least, consider browsing YouTube for some of the highlights.
In the clip embedded above, Fisher talks about the time she was featured in a textbook on abnormal psychology as an example of a famous person with bipolar disorder. “I am a Pez dispenser, and I’m in the abnormal psychology textbook. Who says you can’t have it all?” Fisher quips. Then she reveals that the textbook entry about her was accompanied by a huge picture of Princess Leia. Fisher projects the image onstage, to howls from the audience, and says, “So I’m not crazy, that bitch is!”
Wishful Drinking is a show-don’t-tell masterclass in how to live out its central theme: "If you can claim something, it has less power over you.” She embraces her tabloid-fodder upbringing as the child of two big celebrities (actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, who later had an affair with Elizabeth Taylor). She owns the absurdities and indignities of her stardom and her struggles with mental illness and addiction — in a way that makes them not just hilarious, but deeply relatable. And that’s important when discussing such serious subjects as mental illness, which is too often treated as a shameful secret, and gender discrimination, which is too often dismissed as a nonexistent problem.
Her 2016 interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”
Fisher opened up to NPR’s Terry Gross in November 2016 about the three-month affair she had with Harrison Ford in the ’70s, while filming the original Star Wars. She’d recently revealed the affair for the first time in The Princess Diarist, a newly published version of an old diary she kept when she was 19 years old on the Star Wars set, and rediscovered 40 years later. She told Gross she’d had an unrequited obsession with Ford, which he didn’t know the extent of until Fisher sent him a copy of the book before its publication.
Fisher also told Gross that she didn’t actually see “that much of a downside” to playing Leia — “I like how she handles things. I like how she treats people” — but that sexism was an issue with both the role and the film industry in general:
GROSS: As you've pointed out, in "Star Wars" you were the only girl in an all-boy fantasy. When did you start realizing that you were part of boys' sex fantasies?
FISHER: Not until way later. And I'm very glad of that. Like, about — I don't know, maybe eight years ago some guy said to me, I thought about you every day from when I was 12 to when I was 22. And I said every day? And he said, well, four times a day.
FISHER: And, you know, what do you say to that — thank you?
GROSS: What do you say to that?
FISHER: But then I started becoming aware of it in an uncomfortable way.
GROSS: So it was a very boys’ kind of set when you were making the film?
FISHER: Yeah. It's mostly — crews are still mostly men. I mean, I like that they have a continuity girl. So they don't call her continuity woman. It's a continuity girl, and they're women in makeup and hair and wardrobe, but not in camera, not in sound, you know, and not in special effects. It's all men.
GROSS: Did that add to your feeling of insecurity?
FISHER: I think I sort of felt isolated. You know, I didn't really have anyone. I didn't confide in men. Well, I didn't confide in anyone then.
GROSS: As opposed to oversharing like you do now? (Laughter)
FISHER: Yes, that's right. I've made up for it.
At a different point during the interview, she also has her dog Gary lick the microphone. It’s great.
Her sendup of Hollywood’s sexism and ageism on 30 Rock
Fisher’s performance in the 30 Rock episode “Rosemary’s Baby,” which aired during the show’s second season in 2007, is so grounded and sharp that you can even forgive the obligatory line, “Help me Liz Lemon, you’re my only hope!”
But as Vox’s Constance Grady reflected, the episode is great not only because of Fisher’s excellent performance — it’s also a spot-on reflection on how Hollywood (and the professional world in general) treats women, a major theme in Fisher’s later work:
At the end of “Rosemary’s Baby,” the lesson Liz learns is that she can’t rely on her principles alone, the way Rosemary does. She has to accumulate money and power so that she doesn’t wind up unemployable after she’s 40 and powerful men don’t want to see her naked anymore. After all, as Jack Donaghy tells her, “If you make enough money, you can pay people to look at you naked.” In other words, if a woman has enough power of her own, she doesn’t need to live up to anyone else’s standards.
That’s the lesson Carrie Fisher already knew. If she spent her life as the girl in the gold bikini, she would be powerless, so she refused to let that be her story. Instead, she became a writer, and she told her own.
Fisher didn’t write “Rosemary’s Baby.” But it was still Carrie Fisher the writer, not Carrie Fisher the movie star, who guest-starred on that episode, and 30 Rock creator Tina Fey said it was one of her favorites.
Her 1983 Rolling Stone interview on fame and feminism
This brief interview between Fisher and Rolling Stone’s Carol Caldwell is rich with insight on how Fisher thought about herself, her upbringing, and her role as Princess Leia.
On Leia the “space bitch”:
There are a lot of people who don't like my character in these movies; they think I'm some kind of space bitch. … The only way they knew to make the character strong was to make her angry. 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 becoming herself:
[O]nce it was proposed to me that it was all right to be like I am, I finally quit apologizing for it. … For being something different. For being strong. Strength is a style. But this happens in acting a lot. If you pretend something over and over, sometimes it comes true.
I saw what the media did to my parents, particularly to my father, and how seriously they took it. They weren't really parents, you know, they were copy. After a point, it becomes your only validation. You begin to think if everyone accepts you — the public, the press — then you'll be acceptable to yourself. … Everybody wants to be a celebrity. But you know what happens to old celebrities? They die or go to Vegas. Star life duration is getting shorter and shorter. It could be me at the Tropicana Lounge any minute.
That last part is a bit of a gut-punch now — but Fisher did anything but fade away or “go to Vegas” in her later years.
Her hilarious 2015 interview on Good Morning America
In 2015, while promoting the then-upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Fisher sat down for a taped interview with Good Morning America’s Amy Robach. By the time Fisher was done with her segment, both Robach and the entire GMA crew were in stitches.
“I'm a female in Hollywood over the age of, let's say 40, and then, we could also say 50,” Fisher said when Robach asked whether it was hard to convince her to play Leia again. “You don't have to ask yourself if you want to work at that age.”
She also deftly flipped the script when Robach asked her about losing weight for The Force Awakens: "I did lose weight, and I think it's a stupid conversation. But you're so thin! Let's talk about it. How do you keep that going on? Do you exercise every day?”
And then of course there was the aforementioned Gary the dog, who made the perfect comic prop by letting his tongue flop out of his mouth and almost falling asleep during the interview.
Her brilliant repartee with Charlie Rose in 1994
In a 20-minute interview pegged to the release of her 1994 novel Delusions of Grandma, Fisher dives in deep with Charlie Rose on the topics of marriage, family, and art. She talks about her work as a script doctor, muses on why drugs appealed to her and the nature of addiction, jokes about how she had a baby at age 35 because “it was the law,” and at one point asks Rose if he’ll have a “trial marriage” to her on the air for the sake of deepening the conversation.
There are witty exchanges like this:
ROSE: Serious question. Do you think marriage ruins good relationships?
FISHER: I think all of it is individual. I think probably for me, because it's a high concept, marriage. If you are looking at a person that you consider your girlfriend —
ROSE: What's a high-concept marriage?
FISHER: — you're looking at your girlfriend. How you expect your girlfriend to behave is perhaps far different than how you expect your wife to behave.
ROSE: Why do you think that is?
FISHER: You ask your mother.
And there are plenty of moving insights. “I’m very powerful about my weaknesses,” Fisher says.
Her semi-autobiographical book/film, Postcards from the Edge
Fisher did a lot of uncredited work on screenplays written by other people, including films like Hook (1991), Sister Act, and Lethal Weapon 3 (1992), and The Wedding Singer (1998). Sadly, she did not make the script revisions on the Empire Strikes Back screenplay that have recently gone viral as attributed to her.
But she also wrote the full screenplay for 1990’s critically acclaimed Postcards from the Edge, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. The film was based on Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, and while it’s not all nonfiction, it’s basically the story of her drug addiction and complicated relationship with her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds.
Her spot-on supporting role in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally
Carrie Fisher has a warm, wise, and winking screen presence that makes you feel like you’re in on a joke with her. Her role as Meg Ryan’s best friend in the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally is a great example.
Recall her subtly perfect comic timing when she goes through her Rolodex of eligible bachelors — and dog-ears one man’s card when she hears he’s married, rather than discarding it. She also has one of the film’s best lines: "The right man for you might be out there right now and if you don't grab him, someone else will, and you'll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that someone else is married to your husband."
The time she explained bipolar disorder to a little boy at a Comic Con
The video above (part two of three) of Fisher appearing at Indiana Comic Con in 2015 is a little hard to hear and full of background noise, but it’s chock full of great quotes, some of which have been turned into memes.
“What’s so great about [Star Wars] is that I am a part of everyone’s childhood,” she says at one point. “I don’t necessarily love being part of all your adolescences. That’s kind of gross.”
But the best part might be when she mentions her bipolar disorder — and, seeing a mom in the audience trying to explain the concept to her young son, interrupts to explain it herself, in her own, very Carrie Fisher way.
“It’s a kind of a virus of the brain,” she tells the boy. “It makes you go very fast or very sad. Or both — those are fun days. And so judgment isn’t one of my big good things. But I have a good voice. I can write well. I’m not a good bicycle rider. So [I’m] just like anybody else, only louder, and faster, and sleeps more.”