Of royalty lost: Remembering Carrie Fisher

We all learned a few hours ago that Carrie Fisher passed away today, following a heart attack on Friday.

Photo by Riccardo Ghilardi

My initial response — on social media and off — was that I had no words. In fact, I probably have too many. I will try to organize a few now. It probably won’t help, but it’s better to do something than nothing.

This has been a trying year for many people I know on a number of scores; the seemingly large number of well-known people dying has been salt in the wound. It’s easy to reason intellectually about that: we’re now more than sixty years out from the spread of television across the country, and with it, a vast explosion in the number of entertainers, sports figures, and others who are Household Names. But understanding where storms come from doesn’t do much to assuage your feelings about those they sweep away.

An hour out from learning the news — and knowing that we’re in the end-of-December period for the news media during which canned articles on the year past are everywhere — I’m already dreading seeing headlines about how 2016 claimed both a Prince and Princess. It’s the sort of coy cleverness that repackages grief into something snappy for a news-network chyron or soundbite. It also gets at me because I had a harder time with Prince‘s death than any celebrity passing to date — and I can see what’s coming in the days and weeks ahead. It might be the same — or it might not. I’ll tell you why.

People didn’t know how big a Prince fan I was. Purple Rain was the album playing on my first date, Prince’s
songs the ones the cover band was playing at my junior prom. For the
Generation X’er with an MTV subscription, he was ever-present; Touré has written a great
book about that. Losing someone so young — just two days older than my sister — wrecked me for a good while, and I know why: All my other fandoms I live out publicly, but when it comes to music, I’ve always kept my tastes to my headphones and the inside of my car. In part, that’s because I like so much eclectic stuff that as a kid I figured I’d get hassled; my comics and science fiction fandoms were similarly under wraps for a long while.

Eventually those wrappings did come off for comics and science fiction, with me able to celebrate my likes in fanzines and at conventions — and later by writing my own material professionally. Music, however, I kept personal; apart from one article for Comics Buyer’s Guide deconstructing Prince’s Batman album and the comics he’d licensed — how delighted I was that he not only did something related to my other world, but took it seriously! — I never wrote anything about his music, or the man himself.

I never wrote Leia Organa as a character, either — nor did I ever meet Carrie Fisher, whom I saw many times at conventions, always across the venue, surrounded by a crowd of her admirers. But by contrast, I feel like I’ve expressed my thoughts about her Star Wars performance plenty of times, in a lot of different ways.

Certainly through my writing: has anyone not noticed that in all the Star Wars stories I’ve done — from Knights of the Old Republic through New Dawn, the female leads are tougher than all the guys? That comes from somewhere, from the strength and attitude Carrie gave to Leia. Even Rae Sloane — ostensibly a villain — trades on the archetype of confidence and competence that Carrie Fisher created. I’m thankful to have had that example.

So to an extent, I’ve had at least some opportunity to put my feelings about the character she played into words. I haven’t had the same chance when it comes to talking about the woman herself and her other work, though — and I’d like to rectify that. I’m big into Hollywood history, as a lot of people know, and as Debbie Reynolds‘ and Eddie Fisher‘s daughter, Carrie lived a life surrounded by it and part of it. Practically every other entertainment biography I’ve read covering the 1970s forward has her in it somewhere, being fascinating around other fascinating people, in fields from comedy to music. (Just look at the wide range of reactions from names you know here.)

She’s everywhere on screen as well — the kids and I watched When Harry Met Sally just the other day — and her own writing is terrific. I’ve been meaning to watch Postcards from the Edge again for a long time. I have several of her books on my shelves.

Ringo and Carrie

Whenever I meet actors I always try to ask something new, something they don’t always hear about, so as not to be the thirty millionth person to ask about their best-known project. In her case, I’ve long been struggling to pick out just one thing to ask about when I got to meet her. I was leaning toward the 1978 Ringo TV special, where she costarred with Ringo Starr (playing a double role as his twin Ognir Rrats) — or perhaps asking about her and Penny Marshall‘s adventures. I wish now I had figured something out, and made a point to cross the room and simply thank her for being herself — in addition to playing Leia and so many other characters. You always think there’s time.

She’ll be getting many memorials written over the next few days, many
far more personal and informed than this. I urge you to read them. I can’t describe the anguish on my social media feeds right now; hopefully, those pieces will help. For myself, I’m hoping the fact that I’ve been able to celebrate Star Wars and her performance in print will make this easier this time around — but I just don’t know. I’m just thankful I had her inspiration to draw from. I’m also thankful she came back for the sequel films, and that hopefully we’ll have another performance to see.

But there should have been many more.