THIS IS A SERIES ON MY BLOG WHICH CONSISTS OF ME LOOKING BACK AT ARTISTS I LOVE AND/OR HAVE INFLUENCED ME THAT ARE UNFORTUNATELY NO LONGER ALIVE. THEY MAY NOT HAVE NECESSARILY DIED DUE TO THEIR MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS/ES, BUT DURING THEIR LIVES THEY SUFFERED FROM ONE OR MORE.
Today, 27th December 2017, would be the first anniversary since Carrie Fisher’s untimely and tragic death. She died due to cardiac arrest at the age of 60. What was more heartbreaking – other than the fact that it was unexpected – is that her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, died just a day later. But we’re not going to talk about that today, maybe in another post though.
Carrie may have risen to fame after starring as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, but she stayed in the public eye largely because of her deft, vulnerable and often hilarious writing. In her four novels, three memoirs and the countless Hollywood scripts she punched up, she fearlessly dove into dark personal terrain rarely tapped by female celebrities – at least not with such alacrity. The bulk of her work centers on addiction, recovery, mental illness, fraught family relationships and the grime and glamour of a sexist Hollywood.
It was Fisher’s willingness to tackle difficult subjects with wit and transparency that helped transform her into a bona fide role model, especially for people afflicted with mental illness. She was among the first female celebrities to do it with such enthusiastic humor about topics typically viewed as both taboo and unfeminine. Fisher embraced her illnesses – bipolar disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction, and “serious body dysmorphia issues” – in a way that helped normalise them, which is one of the main reasons I admire her a lot. She was not just a good actress, but the way she delivered her mental health problems in writing is just incredible.
She was a striking model of a successful woman committed to conquering her demons simply by accepting them, airing them, and ultimately trudging onward. Carrie Fisher was the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher, so she was, as she put it, a “product of Hollywood in-breeding”.
First diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her mid-twenties, Fisher refused to accept the diagnosis until she got sober at 28, checking herself into a 30-day rehab after a near-fatal overdose. (“Only then was I able to see nothing else could explain away my behavior,” she later wrote.) She poked fun at both recovery culture and her youthful resistance to it in her first novel, 1987’s semi-autobiographical Postcards from the Edge, which chronicles the rehab stay and personal relationships of a 30-year-old narrator named Suzanne Vale. “I’ll stay [in rehab,]” she wrote. “But I’m not gonna like it.”
After that stint, Fisher remained abstinent from drugs and alcohol for much of her life, though she confessed to a few slips. Her bipolar disorder was a continual roller coaster, though, with lows that were sometimes difficult to treat.
Fisher’s legacy is towering not just for her creative output, but for the work she did around demystifying mental health. As she wrote in her final Guardian column to a young woman trying to come to grips with her own bipolar disorder, “You can let it all fall down and feel defeated and hopeless and that you’re done. Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching.”
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