Carrie Fisher is gone but her legacy lives on

Robert Thompson,

Jobs are created, jobs are eliminated.  But, alas, there’ll always be a market for the writers of obituaries.  And for such writers, 2016 was a very busy year.  A boxer and a Brady; a dictator and a first lady; a Prince…and now a princess.

Carrie Fisher was a real character, in art and in life.  As you read this, her body of work—in film and television, both behind and in front of the camera—is being remembered and recognized around the world.  Her magnum opus, of course, was her portrayal of Princess Leia, a character caught somewhere between the complex ideological territory of feminist empowerment and adolescent fantasy in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

carriefisher_small Carrie Fisher is gone but her legacy lives on Culture

Star Wars may be her greatest legacy, but I’d like to suggest that her most important achievement during the three score years of her life was her literary output.  She wrote four “semi-autobiographical” novels, most notably Postcards from the Edge, which she adapted into a movie in 1990.  But it was her triptych of memoirs that has left us with a candid and telling tale of American celebrity.  

Wishful Drinking, a 2008 book based on her one-woman play; Shockaholic, published in 2011; and The Princess Diarist, which was released a month before her death, combine to reveal an intriguing look at the weird world of fame and fortune.  Begotten by celebrities (her parents were actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, two people who were famous a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away), Carrie Fisher was in a unique position to describe half a century of Hollywood hi-jinx.  Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Simon, Ted Kennedy, Michael Jackson: Princess Leia knew a lot of important people, while she was also struggling with bipolar disorder, depression, and addiction.  These three memoirs remind us that the “icons” in our popular culture are incarnated by real human beings whose lives are impacted, for better and for worse, by becoming the characters that we know and love and that will outlast us all.  

Carrie Fisher is gone, Princess Leia is not.  It is right that we should remember both of them.

Robert Thompson is founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University and a trustee professor.