I’ve never seen Star Wars but discovering Fisher through Stephen Fry’s documentary on manic depression immediately made me feel less alone
I’ll let you in on a secret: I have never seen any of the Star Wars films. Perhaps more egregious still: I have zero desire to see any of the Star Wars films. And yet I feel the death of Carrie Fisher as keenly as any sci-fi fan. Because Carrie Fisher was so much more than Princess Leia – although that may come as a surprise to editors at the Mirror who saw fit to headline its front page: “Princess Leia dead at 60.”
Carrie Fisher died at 60. Carrie Fisher the actor, sure. But Carrie Fisher the actor not just famous for Leia, but for a long list of performances. Carrie Fisher the writer of seven full-length books and a prolific script consultant. Carrie Fisher the mental health advocate who did so much to clear the dark plumes of others’ depression and guide them towards light. Carrie Fisher, the dog lover, the eccentric tweeter, the mother, the storyteller.
I have nothing to say on Fisher’s performance as Leia. Leia I know only as a pop culture icon, a Halloween costume; two plaited doughnuts and a Friends episode. I know she means a lot to a lot of people, however. I know kids who grew up in the 70s adored her; I know fans paid thousands for cosplays and meet-and-greets and that the instalment of the franchise in cinemas now has her digitised presence. Tributes from her fellow cast and crew members have poured forth.
But Leia wasn’t the Fisher I held close. The first time I encountered her, the big brown eyes and the flared nostrils and that husk’n’cackle, was in 2006, watching The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. Stephen Fry visits a manic Fisher at home. I didn’t recognise her but I recognised the mania. Who was this woman? Immediately I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole of interviews and performances. Hour passed. My eyes went wet with laughing, then dried with tiredness, and the black outside turned grey and flat. I crawled into bed and felt somehow changed. Somehow, and it might sound trite but who cares – she’d say it as it was – less alone.
Fisher always spoke about addiction and mental illness straight up: “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that. I am still surviving it, but bring it on.” Fisher was saying these things years before the rest of us; before celebrity as advocacy; before think pieces; before people were awarded with actual awards for it (she has an hilarious bit on being named Bipolar Woman of the Year).
After a manic episode on a cruise ship in 2013 which was, as so often these days, filmed and put on social media, Fisher simply said: “My medication had a little problem with itself. It’s a balance and I went out of balance in public.” And that was that. She broke down the stigma of medication and of diagnosis. She gave others advice, including this letter just weeks ago in the Guardian. “As difficult as it seems like it can be, you’re ahead of the game … As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching.”
We saw her at her best but she showed us the workings out too.
Her creative writing about mental illness was brilliant. There aren’t many people who can write it well; who can peel back the truth of it and get to the rawness and somehow make it soft, or at least, make it not as raw, touchable; but she did.
Often Fisher made it funny too, which is an even greater gift. Her 2008 memoir Wishful Drinking – what a title, what cover artwork – is a great example (“No matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra”). Her 1987 semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge, detailed time in rehab. Her second memoir, the Princess Diarist, revealed her affair with Harrison Ford, writing of her feelings for him (“at least five, sometimes as many as seven”).
Read the complete article at The Guardian.