Carrie Fisher, the brash and witty Hollywood princess who became a galactic princess in Star Wars and later found acclaim as an author and screenwriter, died on Tuesday after suffering a heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles on Friday. She was 60.
Fisher’s death was confirmed to Entertainment Weekly and PEOPLE in a statement released by family spokesperson Simon Halls on behalf of Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd.
“It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother Carrie Fisher passed away at 8:55 this morning,” the statement read. “She was loved by the world and she will be missed profoundly. Our entire family thanks you for your thoughts and prayers.”
Fisher was the daughter of entertainers Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, and her early proximity to both the glamor and hypocrisies of fame gave her a lacerating perspective on show business that she wielded like a double-edged sword. As cutting as she could be about the industry, Fisher often saved her harshest words for herself.
That vulnerability became, ironically, a kind of armor. In her public appearances and writing, she never shied away from either the pain or the humor that she encountered along her unusual journey from being the child of celebrities to geekdom goddess to literary novelist.
In her recent memoir of 1977’s Star Wars, The Princess Diarist, she wrote about the difficulties of aging while constantly being confronted with affection from fans for her younger self. Eroticism clashed with neuroticism in typical Fisher fashion: “When men — 50-year-old-plus men down to… well, the age goes pretty low for statutory comfort — when men approach me to let me know that I was their first love, let’s just say I have mixed feelings. Why did all these men find it so easy to be in love with me then and so complex to be in love with me now?”
She made relentless jokes about her “gold bikini” in Return of the Jedi as well as her “baboon’s ass” hairdo in last year’s return to the character in The Force Awakens. Fisher both courted and tormented her Star Wars fans, at once enjoying their adulation and recoiling from it, celebrating their devotion while also raising a skeptical eyebrow at it. Fisher never bought into the world’s crush on her, but she never wanted it to go away either.
She was born Oct. 21, 1956, in Beverly Hills, California, but she never knew a happy home with both parents. She was 2 years old when her parents divorced and her father married Elizabeth Taylor, and the break-up reverberated throughout her life and work. “You might say I’m a product of Hollywood inbreeding,” Fisher wrote in her memoir, Wishful Drinking. “When two celebrities mate, something like me is the result.”
Around age 12, Fisher started sharing the stage with her mother in a nightclub act. She started but never finished high school, choosing instead to join the Broadway musical Irene. She was 17 when she made her film debut opposite Warren Beatty in the 1975 sexual-revolution dramedy Shampoo, playing a tennis player who seduces her mother’s hairdresser and lover.
“My two scenes in Shampoo took only a few days to shoot, and when they were done, I went back to living at home with my mother and younger brother, Todd, hoping that I wouldn’t be living there for too much longer, as any amount of time was way too long for the now-too-hip-for-words me,” Fisher wrote in The Princess Diarist.
She went on to study at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama but never graduated. Two words interrupted her life and then changed it forever: Star Wars.
Fisher auditioned for the role of Princess Leia amid a host of other actresses, including Sissy Spacek. Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas and director Brian De Palma, a cinematic mentor, were sharing the search for a female lead in their respective movies. De Palma’s was an adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel. “I thought that last role would be a funny casting coup if I got it: Carrie as Carrie in Carrie. I doubt that that was why I never made it to the next level with Carrie — but it didn’t help.” Spacek got that part, of course, but Fisher won over Lucas, who needed a young, fresh face who also could project an old soul — and skill with a blaster.
As Princess Leia, a Rebel spy posing as a diplomat who faces down the masked visage of Darth Vader without so much as a tremble, the 19-year-old Fisher gave movie history someone who looked like a delicate young damsel in distress but was actually a fearless, calculating, and powerful hero. For girls and boys who became Star Wars fans, she was an icon.
When she returned to the character three decades later for The Force Awakens, Fisher expressed anxiety about being a senior member of the cast, handing off the story for a generation. She told EW in 2015 that she enjoyed being the only woman when she was filming Star Wars at age 19, but it was nice now to have “backup” in young Daisy Ridley.
Fisher shared some advice with her then-23-year-old costar during a conversation for Interview magazine last year. “You should fight for your outfit,” she said, referring to the controversial “gold bikini” her character was forced to wear by Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi. “Don’t be a slave like I was. You keep fighting against that slave outfit.”
As much as she made fun of Leia, Fisher also held on to her tight. “It’s me!” she told EW. “I’m the custodian of Leia. I keep her in my bag! I do have a reaction to what they write for me, and that has to be a certain way or I’m uncomfortable.”
Fisher grappled with substance abuse and bipolar disorder during her time in the movies, which also took a toll on her overall health. (In her 2011 memoir, Shockaholic, she discussed her experiences with electroconvulsive therapy.)
After Star Wars, her acting career stalled. Princess Leia overshadowed all. Fisher starred in several underperforming films, such as Under the Rainbow, Garbo Talks, and The Man With One Red Shoe. She went on to take smaller roles in Hannah and Her Sisters, The ‘Burbs, When Harry Met Sally, and Soap Dish, and over the past two decades, her screen roles have mainly been cameos.
But she became a full-fledged star again on the page. Her darkly comic, semi-autobiographical 1987 novel Postcards From the Edge was a smash hit, telling the story of a recovering, drug-addicted actress and the love-hate relationship she has with her spotlight-stealing mother. Fisher adapted it into a screenplay for director Mike Nichols 1990 film, which starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.
She went on to work as a script doctor, polishing such films as Sister Act, Outbreak, and The Wedding Singer, and she penned the novels Surrender the Pink (1990), Delusions of Grandma (1993) and The Best Awful There Is (2004.)
In her 2008 memoir Wishful Drinking, which she adapted from a one-woman stage show, she dished on her relationships with musician Paul Simon, whom she dated throughout the late 1970s, married, divorced, and dated again. Among his many songs believed to be inspired by her, the most undeniable was the title track to his 1982 album, Hearts and Bones, about “one and one-half wandering Jews” who have a passionate romance, but are destined for different lives. (Fisher is the one-half, since only her father was Jewish.)
In The Princess Diarist, Fisher also confirmed an on-set fling with Star Wars costar Harrison Ford, who was married at the time. The relationship didn’t last beyond that movie. In 1980, Fisher also reportedly came close to marrying comedian Dan Aykroyd, with whom she costarred opposite John Belushi in The Blues Brothers, but they broke up when she decided to resume her on-again, off-again relationship with Simon.
Later, Fisher was in a long relationship with Hollywood agent Bryan Lourd, before he left her for another man. They had a child, Billie Catherine Lourd, who is now an actress herself, having costarred with her mother as a Rebel officer in The Force Awakens.
Fisher has already completed her work as General Lea for director Rian Johnson’s follow-up to The Force Awakens, the still-untitled Episode VIII, which comes out Dec. 15, 2017. Obviously, any involvement the character has in the future Episode IX will have to be rewritten, but Lucasfilm hasn’t yet commented on what its plans may be. The loss among employees at the company, some of whom had worked with her for decades, was also raw as word of her death reached them over the holiday break.
With The Force Awakens rejuvenating Leia, Fisher seemed to delight in the attention from fans again, even if her feelings about it remained, as always, complicated. Her press tour alongside her charmingly stoic little dog Gary had fans howling with her blunt take on the princess-turned-general.
Fisher never held back, although her candour left her (and everyone involved in the film) a little on edge. “I am so self-conscious because I have a big mouth. Everything else is little. But my mouth is huge,” she told EW. “So I have to be very careful. All through the beginning when we were starting, and [Lucasfilm] would say, ‘You can’t say that! Don’t say that!’ I was like, ‘You mean I can’t say that? Well if I can’t say that, we’re f—ed, because I’m used to being candid.”
But fans adored it. Even the bracing honesty. Maybe especially that. In a realm full of fantasy, Fisher cut through with unabashed truth.
That’s why fans loved her. Hopefully, she knew.