In Remembrance of Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

Carrie Fisher experienced a life of mental illness and drug addiction — and great accomplishment in acting and writing — before dying on Tuesday at age 60.

Carrie Fisher at WonderCon 2009
Carrie Fisher at WonderCon 2009 (photo: Matt Klein, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Carrie Fisher has died at the age of 60. The whole world knew her and loved her for the role she played as the courageous Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy, and the world watched later in life how difficult and consuming mental illness can be, even for someone so familiar.

Born in 1956 to a family that descended from Russian immigrants, her parents — Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds — divorced at an early age when her father left to marry the famous actress Elizabeth Taylor.

Her 1977 debut in Star Wars: A New Hope turned her into an overnight success, playing a heroine capable of handling her own situations, though supported by her co-heroes Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. She and the band of rebels wowed audiences in sequels The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as it became arguably the best trilogy of all time, sparking demand for more productions to this day. Her legacy has made an impact on every Star Wars story since.

The fact that she played a damsel clever enough to slip away from any trouble was an important portrait of her actual life — as she would subject herself to, and be presented with, difficult challenges throughout her life.

She engaged in a heavy use of drugs, including LSD and Percodan, and told about her frequent usage of Cocaine while filming Empire. These and other stories of near-fatal overdoses are portrayed in her semi-autobiography Postcards from the Edge, reading much like a diary of a woman who nearly tossed away everything.

With little roles and appearances in television between the Star Wars franchise makeovers, she came to the silver screen again in 2015 with The Force Awakens, where she was, again, in charge and winning hearts for her smile, courage, and charisma on screen. Some mocked her age and appearance, to which she responded: “Please stop debating about whether OR not [eye emoji] aged well. unfortunately it hurts all 3 of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have.”

We still loved, her, and will continue to. It is well known that Fisher suffered from bipolar disorder, and likely other mental illnesses in recent years. Her life, as of today, does not have to read as an obituary, and it shouldn’t. Personally, she gives me great hope. Her endurance of mental pain, fatigue, and illness are stalwart characteristics of my kind of champions among today’s culture. Year after year we see the moral corruption strengthen in our culture, gradually pushing an acceptance of the evils of euthanasia and assisted suicide. I, for one, am greatly pleased that she endured her difficulties with confidence, hope, and strength.

Her own words on her illness:

One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of [guts]. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.” ―Wishful Drinking, 2008

I find the practical and simple words of St. Jane de Chantal incredibly comforting and useful. She wrote this letter to her own brother, who was the Archbishop of Bourges, and was indeed suffering from mental and physical difficulties:

When you are experiencing some physical pain or a sorrowful heart, try to endure it before God, recalling as much as you can that He is watching you at this time of affliction, especially in physical illness when very often the heart is weary and unable to pray. Don’t force yourself to pray, for a simple adherence to God’s will, expressed from time to time, is enough. Moreover, suffering born in the will quietly and patiently is a continual, very powerful prayer before God, regardless of the complaints and anxieties that come from the inferior part of the soul.

Rest in peace, dear Carrie Fisher, and may you soon receive millions of prayers so that you may finally feel that presence of God that “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds us together.”