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‘Survivor – it’s a term I don’t really like, but I reluctantly agree that I am one,’ declared Carrie Fisher in an interview with the Daily Mail in 2011. This statement was made following thirty-five years of struggling with stardom, having become a pop icon and sex symbol overnight at the tender age of twenty when her second feature film Star Wars became a worldwide phenomenon.
Growing up the daughter of a Hollywood star, success was something that she had witnessed her mother overcome as she was growing up but the cultural impact that her breakthrough picture would have was unprecedented and soon the young actress found herself on cereal boxes, comic books and bedroom walls around the world.
So beloved was her role as Princess Leia Organa in George Lucas’ revolutionary science fiction opera Star Wars that when the media revealed on Friday 23 December that the sixty-year-old had been rushed into Intensive Care following a suspected heart attack, fans feared that Fisher would become another casualty of 2016, a year that claimed such celebrities as David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Prince. The incident took place fifteen minutes before her flight from London was due to arrive at LAX International Airport in Los Angeles. Upon touchdown at Terminal 7, the plane was met by the County Fire Department who performed emergency CPR before transporting Fisher to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
‘She’s in the ICU and everybody’s praying for her,’ Carrie’s younger brother Todd Fisher informed Variety via phone as he was awaiting further details. ‘There’s nothing new from the doctors. There’s nothing new at all. There’s no good news or bad news.’ It was shortly after 12pm that Flight UA935 arrived, having departed from London’s Heathrow that morning following her work on the television series Catastrophe. In recent weeks Fisher had also embarked on a publicity tour for her eighth book The Princess Diarist. Since the success of Star Wars, Fisher has openly documented her struggles with fame and addiction through her work as an author, with her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Postcards from the Edge, initially published in 1987. In an audio of a call obtained by the Mirror, the pilot of the flight informed air traffic control of Fisher’s emergency onboard, advising that ‘they are working on her right now and we are going to have her seated in about two minutes.’
Prior to the publication of her latest memoirs, earlier in 2016 Fisher had reunited with Star Wars veteran Mark Hamill for her fifth appearance as Leai in the latest instalment of the franchise, which will continue from the events of last year’s The Force Awakens. While the series had originally concluded in 1983 after three pictures with Return of the Jedi, Lucas had delivered his long-promised prequels commencing in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, but following the sale of his company Lucasfilm and the Star Wars property to Disney for $4b in 2012, the studio announced that they would continue the saga with a seventh chapter set approximately thirty years after Jedi. While the focus of the story would centre on a new breed of heroes and villains, Leia and Harrison Ford, who had portrayed the rugged Han Solo in the original trilogy, returned as supporting characters.Having only just made her professional debut in the ensemble comedy Shampoo prior to being cast in Star Wars, Fisher was not prepared for the impact that her performance as Leia would have on both pop culture and her own life. By all accounts the young actress was somewhat conflicted about pursuing a professional career in the industry that her mother Debbie Reynolds had been a part of since the late 1940s. ‘So why did I agree to visit the set of Shampoo knowing that there might be a role in the film that I was right for?’ Fisher mused in her new book. ‘Maybe I wanted to see what it felt like to be wanted by Warren Beatty in any capacity at all. At any rate, at seventeen I didn’t see it as a career choice.’
During the mid-1970s a young breed of filmmakers had conquered Hollywood and ushered in a new era of cinema. While Steven Spielberg had risen through the ranks of Universal, many of these other aspiring directors had honed their craft in film schools and working on independent productions before finally landing their big break. As Lucas was deep into pre-production on Star Wars another filmmaker, Brian De Palma, was preparing to shoot an adaptation of a recently-piublished novel called Carrie.
The two directors decided to cast their films together and thus many actors read for roles in both Star Wars and De Palma’s supernatural horror. Among those that would read for the role of Leia were Amy Irving, who De Palma would ultimately cast as a sympathetic student in Carrie and thirteen-year-old Jodie Foster who, by the time Star Wars was released, had been nominated for her first Academy Award following her performance as a teenage prostitute in Taxi Driver. Fisher would land the role of Leia, a strong and independent figure in the Rebel Alliance and potential love interest to the film’s two heroes, farm boy-turned-hero Luke Skywalker and smuggler Han Solo. Fisher would be the youngest and most inexperienced of the trio but the three would spend most of the during the gruelling shoot together.
In November 2016 Fisher claimed that during the production of Star Wars she had embarked on an affair with thirty-three-year-old co-star Harrison Ford. ‘It was so intense,’ she said in an interview with People. ‘It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend.’ While Ford had declined to issue a statement on her comments Hamill told Entertainment Tonight that he was unaware of their relationship. ‘I was so self-involved at that point, they could’ve been doing it in front of me and I wouldn’t have noticed,’ he confessed. ‘If the relationship doesn’t last and you’re on a TV series and you got four more seasons to go, it can be really awkward. I think it might have been a distraction if I’d known what was going on.’
The phenomenal success of Star Wars guaranteed a sequel and three years later many of the original cast returned for The Empire Strikes Back. By this point toy stores were full of Princess Leia figures and Fisher had appeared alongside Ford and Hamill in a made-for-TV production entitled the Star Wars Holiday Special. While she would return once again for the closing chapter, Return of the Jedi, Fisher would enjoy numerous supporting roles in such cult classics as The Blues Brothers and Hannah and Her Sisters, along with two collaborations with rising comic star Tom Hanks. But her personal demons had begun to take hold and soon Fisher was publicly struggling with addiction. ‘In a weird way, I don’t think I do badly with what I’m given,’ she told the Guardian in 2004. ‘If you go into showbusiness, it’s going to happen sooner or later.’While she would continue to make appearances in the likes of Drop Dead Fred and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, the 1990s saw Fisher focusing on her new career as a writer, commencing with an adaptation of her first novel Postcards from the Edge, with Meryl Streep playing a fictitious version of her. The same year her second book Surrender the Pink was published, an erotic thriller about a soap opera writer who stalks her ex-husband and his new family that was inevitably compared to the 1987 blockbuster Fatal Attraction.
Fisher claimed the title of this book came during the press tour of her previous novel when an actor friend, Jim Borrelli, pounced on her bed and jokingly demanded, ‘Okay baby, spread ’em, surrender the pink!’ Other literary offerings from Fisher would include the novel Delusions of Grandma and TV movie These Old Broads, the latter starring her mother Reynolds. While it seemed that her acting career had been reduced to cameos in genre pictures like Scream 3 and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the resurrection of the Star Wars franchise in 2015 finally allowed Fisher to once again portray a strong-willed leader.
The new addition of Rey, a young orphan from a desert planet who discovers that she may be the Jedi that the galaxy has been waiting for – much like Luke Skywalker in the original movie – may have been Disney’s attempt at creating a new Princess Leia but Fisher remains the primary female role model in the saga. But recently there was some controversy when the filmmakers behind the new stand-alone Star Wars movie, Rogue One, used a digital representation of Fisher in their movie. Set before the events of the first movie, Rogue One‘s director Gareth Edwards incorporated a mixture of motion capture and CGI to feature both Leia and and villain Grand Moff Tarkin in the new spinoff. With Fisher now unable to portray her nineteen-year-old self, England-based Norwegian actress Ingvild Deila doubled for the character while Harry Potter alumnus Guy Henry replaced the late Peter Cushing in the role of Tarkin.
‘I mean ideally, you get the original actors to play these roles but it’s been thirty-odd years since then and so it’s impossible,’ Edwards explained to the Radio Times. ‘People have aged so much that you can’t even get them to do the motion capture. As you get older you’re not the same, your whole body language is different.’ Unlike the prequels directed by George Lucas and last year’s The Force Awakens, Rogue One is not technically part of the official Star Wars canon, in that while the other pictures have continued the story from their predecessor, Edwards’ movie explores the events that take place immediately before the first movie, in which the Rebels launch a mission to obtain the plans for a space station capable of destroying planets in the hope of exploiting a weakness and freeing the galaxy from their tyranny. Filmmaker Rian Johnson, whose prior experience in science fiction included the 2012 action picture Looper, is currently overseeing the post-production of Episode VIII, which will follow on from the events of The Force Awakens.
In 2012, Fisher’s mother Debbie Reynolds was rushed into hospital and forced to cancel a run of shows due to an unexpected reaction to medication although the then-eighty-year-old star made a full recovery. Meanwhile, earlier this year fellow Star Wars veteran Kenny Baker, the man behind the loveable droid R2-D2, passed away after a long illness at the age of eighty-one. Baker had been involved in all seven previous films in the series as well as the Star Wars Holiday Special, while also appearing in the Lucas-produced fantasies Labyrinth and Willow.Since the news of the incident became public knowledge many of her friends and former collaborators have expressed their concern over her wellbeing. ‘I’m shocked and saddened to hear the news about my dear friend,’ Ford told Entertainment Tonight. ‘Our thoughts are with Carrie, her family and friends.’ Younger sister Joely Fisher, who was only nine when her sister became a superstar, posted a series of photographs on Twitter that showed the two of them together with their youngest sibling Tricia Leigh. ‘Fisher Girls,’ she stated, ‘Your love and prayers are deeply felt…’
Sadly, Fisher passed away four days after her cardiac arrest shortly before 9am on Tuesday 27 December. ‘It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother Carrie Fisher passed away at 8:55 this morning,’ announced a representative of Fisher’s daughter Lourd in a statement to People. ‘She was loved by the world and she will be missed profoundly. Our entire family thanks you for your thoughts and prayers.’
According to a news article published by TMZ Fisher never regained consciousness after the incident that took place on Friday. ‘We’re told she was unresponsive from the time she suffered the massive heart attack on the United flight to the time she died,’ revealed the site. ‘When reports surfaced she was in ‘stable’ condition the reality was her condition did not improve.’ Fisher’s death comes just two days after that of pop star George Michael, who reportedly passed away in his home on Christmas Day at the age of fifty-three.
Disney’s CEO Bob Iger issued a tribute shortly after the news of the actress’ death had been announced. ‘Carrie Fisher was one-of-a-kind, a true character who shared her talent and her truth with us all with her trademark wit and irreverence. Millions fell in love with her as the indomitable Princess Leia; she will always have a special place in the hearts of Star Wars fans as well as all of us who were lucky enough to know her personally. She will be sorely missed, and we join millions of fans and friends around the world who mourn her loss today.’
Ford, who had co-starred alongside Fisher in four Star Wars movies as well as the Christmas Special, also paid tribute to Fisher, forty years after after they first met as young, hopeful actors. ‘Carrie was one-of-a-kind…brilliant, original,’ said the seventy-four-year-old star who will next be seen in in the long-awaited sequel to Blade Runner. Fisher and Ford also collaborated together the 1982 half-hour short Return of the Ewok, a tongue-in-cheek spinoff of the third Star Wars movie which documented twelve-year-old Warwick Davis’ attempts to land the role of Ewok Wicket in Jedi. ‘We will all miss her,’ added Ford.
— Star Wars (@starwars) 27 December 2016
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) December 27, 2016
I'm deeply saddened at the news of Carrie's passing. She was a dear friend, whom I greatly respected and admired. The force is dark today!
— Billy Dee Williams (@realbdw) December 27, 2016
— Warwick Davis (@WarwickADavis) December 27, 2016