I’ve known that I wanted to write this post since the day we lost the late, great, amazing, wonderful Carrie Fisher, but every time I’ve tried it has just seemed to fall flat and has made me very sad. Carrie Fisher was so many things to so many people and there have been hundreds if not thousands of articles and blog posts written about what she meant to people, many of which are more articulate than this one will be, but I still feel compelled to share why Carrie Fisher’s life matters so much from an Illuminated By U perspective and, more personally, from a Catherine Cottam perspective.
I was introduced to Star Wars at the age of 19 by a guy I was seeing the summer between freshmen and sophomore year of college (Thank you to that guy, by the way). I had seen at least one of the prequels when they came out in theaters when I was younger, but I had never gotten around to or had much interest in watching the originals until then. My age is significant because it was the age Carrie Fisher was when she began filming Star Wars and playing Princess Leia, which I know because she talks about it in her book, Wishful Drinking. In her first interaction with Luke, Han, and Chewbacca, Leia grabs the blaster out of Luke’s hands, blasts an opening into the garbage shoot, and gets the group to a place that is at least marginally safer than the hallway in which they were previously residing.
Leia is not a damsel to be rescued, but a badass who resists interrogation and torture, helps lead a rebellion and defeat a fascist regime, and is instrumental in her own rescue and the rescue of others. Carrie Fisher gave us the gift of a strong, independent, female co-lead back when having one was even less common than it is now. I know that George Lucas wrote Princess Leia’s character, but Carrie Fisher brought her to life and therefore represented so much to so many people. I know of girls who grew up with Star Wars who knew that you could be a princess AND a warrior and who grew up with a role model who was strong, brave, fierce, and a woman.
Last year’s Star Wars film, The Force Awakens (Episode VII), even passes the Bechdel Test, which means for the movie that (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. It’s also worth noting that Leia, previously referred to by her titles “Princess” or “Her Highness” or “Your Worship” (albeit sometimes in a smart ass way by Han Solo), is now “General” Organa and has clearly accomplished much for the rebellion in the years that have passed between Episode VI and Episode VII.
But Carrie Fisher’s gifts to the world do not begin and end with Princess Leia/General Organa. Oh no. Carrie Fisher was an outspoken proponent of reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and was, at least to me, a sort of ambassador for people with Bipolar Disorder. I don’t know of any other celebrity that has been as completely and totally honest about what it means and what it is like to have Bipolar Disorder.
I watched her special on HBO several months ago and it was part of what inspired me to disclose my status as having Bipolar Disorder on Facebook to all of my friends and family. If you haven’t seen the special, it’s called Wishful Drinking and is on HBO Go right now. I highly suggest you watch it. I just re-watched it yesterday. Simply put, Carrie Fisher was an inspiration to me. Not only because she was open about her illness, but also because she has the same illness I do and was still able to lead a productive life and be a loving and devoted mom.
Carrie Fisher gave me hope for my future and I’m currently in the process of reading and/or listening to all of her books. I’ve got Wishful Drinking and part of The Princess Diarist down so far. They are funny, informational, and poignant. The only issue I have taken with anything so far is that Carrie got Bipolar I and Bipolar II confused in Wishful Drinking. You can read more about the difference between the two here. I also plan on watching the movie Postcards From The Edge, which is based on a novel she wrote that was about her own life and her relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds.
Fisher was also outspoken about her experiences as a drug addict and alcoholic, which had to be comforting and normalizing for so many people. Addiction is an illness and Carrie Fisher helped people to see it as such by being open and honest about her problems with opioids, acid, and alcohol among other things. I say among other things because I’m not done reading her books yet but I feel sure I’ll hear about more drug use due to her candor.
Carrie Fisher was a national treasure and her loss is a devastating one. It’s also tremendously sad that we lost Debbie Reynolds, her mother, just a day later. I only knew her from the Halloweentown movies, but I’m going to be sure to see Singing in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown soon now. To see a fantastic tribute to Carrie Fisher, please click here and read what an awesome random person onTwitter, Anne Thériault, had to say. Here at Illuminated By U, our thoughts are with Billie, Todd, the rest of Carrie’s and Debbie’s families and friends, and any of you who feel affected by this tragedy the way that we do.