Wow! What a double tragedy! In an extremely rare situation, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, her mother, have passed away only one day apart.
Carrie Frances Fisher was born on October 21, 1956 in Beverley Hills, CA. She was the daughter of two show business icons – Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. As a child she was very shy, preferring to “hide” in books and write poetry. In fact, her family nickname was “the bookworm.” She made her stage debut at 15 in the Broadway revival of Irene, which starred her mother. The show was a hit, and Carrie was on her way. She never did complete high school.
In 1975 she made her film debut in Shampoo, starring Warren Beatty. However, her signature role was that of Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977). Fisher appeared in some 40 films, but she will always be remembered for her Star Wars roles, three as Princess Leia, and then two as General Leia.
In addition, Fisher was a proficient writer. Her most famous novel, the semi-autobiographical Postcards from the Edge, was adapted for the screen, by Fisher, and starred Meryl Streep. Fisher also became one of the top “script doctors” in Hollywood, refining several scripts, notably Sister Act and the Wedding Singer. According to Wikipedia, a “script doctor,” aka “script consultant,” is one who is hired to “rewrite an existing script or polish specific aspects of it,” such as dialogue, structure, pacing, and theme. Generally, such work is uncredited, but it is much appreciated by insiders.
Fisher’s personal life was tragic, even for Hollywood. When she was only two, her world was rocked by the very public divorce of her parents. Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, Mike Todd, were very close personal friends of the family. When Todd died suddenly in an airplane crash, Fisher took it upon himself to “comfort” Taylor. Soon, they were embroiled in a messy affair, which was played out daily in the tabloids and fan magazines. Fisher ended up leaving Reynolds for Taylor.
In addition, throughout her life she struggled with drug addiction, particularly Percodan and cocaine. In 1985 she overdosed on prescription medicine and endured electro-convulsive therapy. In an appearance on 20/20 and an interview on the BBC she disclosed that she was bipolar. She said the Percodan helped her “dial down” the manic phase of the affliction. In another interview she explained that drugs “made me feel normal. They contained me.” Her cocaine dependency began in 1977 while filming The Empire Strikes Back.
On December 23, Fisher went into cardiac arrest while flying from London to LA. Upon landing in LA paramedics rushed her to a hospital. At first, she seemed to be stable, but, then, she passed away on December 27.
Debbie Reynolds was a megastar. She was one of the few performers who could sing, dance and act. To the public, she was generally the cute, perky “girl next door,” her normal role in the movies. But, as was often the case in Hollywood, her private life was anything but.
Marie Frances Reynolds was born in 1932 in El Paso, TX. When she was seven her family moved to Burbank, CA where she was raised. At 16 she entered the Miss Burbank contest and won. She began her career at Warner Bros., but she failed to land any meaningful roles there. Mostly, she was employed as an errand girl. The only significant thing that happened to her there was that studio head Jack Warner changed her name to “Debbie.” She didn’t like it, but Warner ruled with an iron fist, so, thereafter, “Debbie” she was.
In her 60 year career Debbie performed in “hit” Broadway shows, such as “Irene,” “Debbie,” and Woman of the Year,” tv productions, such as “The Debbie Reynolds Show,” These Old Broads” (with Elizabeth Taylor, among others), and “Behind the Candelabra,” as well as dozens of movies, most notably “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
“Singin’ in the Rain,” in which she starred with Gene Kelly, was her big break. Her role required a significant amount of dancing. At that time, Debbie was not a very proficient dancer, but Kelly was one of the best and he spent countless hours teaching her. The film was a smash hit. Even now, AFI ranks it as one of the top 5 American films and the top musical. Probably, her other two most notable movies were “Tammy and the Bachelor” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” In “Tammy” she played the feature role and sung the ballad “Tammy,” which became the number 1 record in 1957. “Molly Brown” landed her her only Oscar nomination.
As I said, Debbie’s personal life was not at all like her persona in the movies. In 1955 she married recording star Eddie Fisher with whom she had two children – Carrie and Todd. But, in 1958 as mentioned above, Fisher began a torrid affair with Elizabeth Taylor, which, even in those pre-internet, pre-social media days, was covered incessantly in the press. The end result was that Fisher divorced her and married Taylor. Even so, Reynolds did not appear to harbor any ill will toward Taylor. They remained friends and even starred together in “These Old Broads.” In an interview with the “Daily Mail” Reynolds described Taylor as “beautiful, smart, and a very sexual woman.” She added, “I was very different – not exactly a sex kitten.”
Insiders were very cognizant of Reynolds’ philanthropic bent. For example, in 1955 she co-founded the Thalians, a charitable organization that sought to raise awareness and provide treatment for persons suffering from mental health issues and provide assistance to wounded veterans and their families. She acted as president and/or chairman for many decades. Also, she sought to preserve the heritage of Hollywood. For example, she purchased several famous movie props at auction, such as Marilyn Monroe’s “subway dress,” a pair of ruby slippers used in the “Wizard of Oz,” and one of Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hats.
Along the way, she endured a couple of financial misadventures. Her second husband, Harry Karl, had a significant gambling problem, and he lost most of her money. Also, in 1992 she purchased the Clarion Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. It was a big loser, and Debbie had to declare bankruptcy to get out from under.
Although Debbie didn’t win that Oscar for “Molly Brown,” she did win the SAG lifetime achievement award in 2015 and followed it up with the Hersholt Humanitarian Award later that year.
Debbie and Carrie had a tumultuous, but close relationship. They both had to deal with a plethora of personal issues in their lives, which, invariably, were played out in public for all to see. The day after Carrie passed away Debbie suffered a massive stroke from which did not recover, or, perhaps, she did not care to. I’m not sure if it’s scientific or not, but many people believe one can die of a “broken heart.” The will to live is just gone. If so, that was the case with Debbie Reynolds. As her son, Todd, told Variety, she wanted to be with Carrie. And so, now, she is.