Carrie Fisher was 60 and that is my age, too. You tend to notice when people of your age have died. As you grow older you become more aware of this, and sometimes those dying are younger than you.
Carrie Fisher packed a lot of wit, wisdom and pain into her six decades. She was troubled and yet her ups and downs made her smart. She wrote as well as acted, and sometimes her writing was better than her acting. For all that, her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars lasted a lifetime and will outlive Carrie herself. In some ways, the role had already outlived her before she died.
Fisher had only recently revealed that she’d been having an affair with her co-star Harrison Ford during the making of the first film. She was amusing about this and when asked if she and Ford ever discussed the affair, said: “He’s not a big talker. You know, he wasn’t Mr Chuckles.”
We are a Star Wars family. The Lucas love is sort of second-hand in my case. I took our two boys to see the films when they were re-released on their 20th anniversary in 1997. The eldest fell in geeky love with Stars War in that moment in space and his ardour has never since dimmed. He’s 28 now and a primary school teacher. At the end of term the presents he is given always include something from Star Wars (last term his haul included mugs that lit up when warm, illuminating the light-sabre).
His younger brother inherited the love of Star Wars, as too did their sister, and their cousin. We had a family outing to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story just before Christmas. My wife’s parents came too, having been in on the Star Wars act from the beginning.
Rogue One is a good film and worth seeing. Fans will know that already, along with fathers of fans. Sometimes your children inherit your tastes (or rebel against your tastes); and sometimes you reverse-inherit your children’s tastes – although that doesn’t include all those soaps and the X Factor. But I am happy to have been given a liking for Star Wars, even if the finer details sometimes pass me by like so much space debris.
Fisher has a ‘digitally fabricated’ role in Rogue One, which is set just before the time of the sci-fi classic that emerged in 1977 and accidentally made her a global star and, as Peter Bradshaw puts in in the Guardian, “an imperishable part of pop culture at a time when pop culture itself was starting to become more and more important”.
Princess Leia was a fantasy figure for boys and girls, with her weird gowns and ever weirder platted-bread hairdo. In a later film, she was a sex symbol too in that ridiculous but fetching gold bikini.
It is one of the cruellest games on the internet to point out that people, and almost always women, get middle aged and even, heaven forbid, old. “You won’t believe what so-and-so looks like nowadays…” some nasty little bit of click-bait fodder will proclaim, next to a picture of a woman once considered glamorous, urging you to have a look and be ‘horrified’.
Carrie Fisher looked as different as it was possible to look in the 40 years since she first played Leia, not least because 19 to 60 is a journey. She made no apparent attempt to hold on to youthfulness. This may have been choice or her former drug addiction, or just the way things rolled for her. But she was aware of how she looked.
“I Googled myself recently and I came across this posting: ‘Whatever happened to Carrie Fisher? She used to be so hot. Now she looks like Elton John.’ Well this did hurt my feelings, partly because I knew what this person meant. Yes, it’s all too true. I let myself go. And where did I go to? Where all fat, jowly, middle-aged women go to – refrigerators and restaurants.”
Refrigerators and restaurants – a funny, sad turn of phrase. Of her former addiction, she said: “Drugs made me feel normal. They contained me.”
Carrie Fisher wrote well and often too about her mental illness, saying once: “I’m fine, but I’m bipolar. I’m on seven medications, and I take medication three times a day. This constantly puts me in touch with the illness I have. I’m never quite allowed to be free of that for a day. It’s like being a diabetic.”
She was born to famous parents. Her mother is Debbie Reynolds and the singer Eddie Fisher, who later married Elizabeth Taylor, was her father. “I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”
She wrote from the age of 12 and ended up chronicling her life, with its illness and addiction; she cast a sharp eye over Hollywood, too, once observing: “You can’t find true affection in Hollywood because everyone does the fake affection so well.”
Appearing on the Graham Norton show on BBC1 shortly before Christmas, she was sparky but seemed unwell. She looked awful too, not in the sense of having grown older – none of us escape that – but just in the sense of not looking at all well.
2016 isn’t done yet with taking the famous, along no doubt too with the blameless un-famous – we just don’t get to hear about them.