It seems to happen too often: at the tail-end of the year, after many of the retrospectives are complete, we lose a major personality. In this year, when several icons were lost at a relatively young age, it’s particularly poignant. Even more so, because it was mother and daughter.
I’m still feeling the shock of Carrie Fisher’s death, and now I’ve learned Debbie Reynolds passed away late yesterday. Carrie, as most of you know, was Debbie’s daughter with crooner Eddie Fisher. She never lived in her mother’s shadow, however. Her light was too bright.
Carrie was remarkably talented and equally outspoken. She had plenty of pain in her life, but never stopped moving forward, reinventing herself when necessary. As so many have noted, she was best known as Princess Leia in Star Wars, but her work didn’t stop with that character. In my life, I remember her more for her role in When Harry Met Sally… as Sally’s conflicted best friend with the peerless advice who later falls for and marries Harry’s best friend, Jess.
Her books were funny, wise and brutally honest. Like many writers, she wrote what she was feeling at that moment, and when she later moved past those beliefs, was perhaps a bit startled to be confronted by her own words in an interview. Her blunt yet thoughtful responses are a tribute to a mind that never stopped spinning, never stopped growing.
Like another great actress we lost earlier this year, Patty Duke, Carrie dealt with bipolar disorder. Her work and words on behalf of the multitudes of others who face this disease brought understanding and compassion.
Debbie Reynolds played the sweetheart role effectively, yet she was as feisty and straightforward as her daughter, hardly the demure, sweet girl many saw on the screen. She could be bawdy and raucous, but she remained gracious. And she could tell a story.
I remember seeing her in an interview once years ago, speaking about her role in Singing in the Rain. Apparently one of the first scenes they shot was of Gene Kelly giving her a passionate kiss, and passionate it was. It was her first french kiss, and she pulled away from her acclaimed co-star, gagging and coughing and demanding some 7-Up. Kelly wasn’t used to this sort of reaction from women, and remained offended for a short time — but got over it.
She endured a scandalous divorce when Eddie Fisher left her for Elizabeth Taylor (imagine the pain of that!), yet in later interviews said she understood his reasons for leaving and had moved on from that challenge in her life. In fact, she rekindled her friendship with Elizabeth Taylor years later and the two remained close until the latter actress’s death.
The reason for her understanding? She told Vanity Fair she wasn’t a very sexual woman, preferring instead to raise her children. That can be a painful truth to admit, yet her candidness was very much in character with the way she lived the rest of her life.
My heart goes out to the family and friends of these two women. Christmas will never be the same for them.