Carrie Fisher was one of my earliest inspirations in her role as Princess Leia. Anyone could have delivered those lines, but no one could have delivered them like she did. She was feisty, no-nonsense, a problem solver – and she made her place in the command center of the rebellion look entirely natural, which was no mean feat in that era in Hollywood.
Later, Carrie became a spokeswoman for the treatment of mental illness. She was unflinching in her stories of her own struggles, but she wasn’t afraid to name them, or to laugh at them. Both of those, each incredibly courageous, gave me courage to tackle the demons in my own head. It was difficult to see the pictures from the set of Star Wars and recognize the too-bright smile that hides depression, but she continued to fight the sadness and fear, and I was inspired by that fight.
It was her turn as General Organa in The Force Awakens, however, that was the most inspirational to me. Leia was a woman who had, in some ways, lost everything. Her son had been brainwashed and stolen from her, her marriage had broken down, her father was ingloriously dead, her home planet was destroyed (along with her adoptive family), her brother had fled after the same disastrous failure that claimed her son, and the Empire they had fought so hard to destroy was still, so many years later, a powerful nemesis. But there she still was: leading the rebellion so that it was still alive, having reintroduced democracy, and no single piece of her past or present defined her. She was a whole person, gloriously alive, still funny, showing pain and humor and love.
Anyone could have delivered those lines. No one could have delivered them like she did. Not many characters get the chance to be portrayed by such an actress, but we were all lucky enough to see that performance. That was who she was as a performer: someone who gave it her all without ever knowing who her work would touch.
She was so many more things than just the parts and causes I have mentioned – proud mother, friend, dog-owner, mentor, script editor. As with General Organa, however, she was able to be more than all of those things. She was a whole person, working hard to forge a life away from the glare of the press. She was a whole person long after much of the world would have written her off. Carrie Fisher was a reminder to all of us that art and purpose need not fade as we grow older.
So, in her memory, I ask you all: think of the causes that need you, the friendships that make you laugh, the people who love you. Go out and be there for all of those things and more. Be kind. Laugh at your demons. Do the art that only you can do, in the way only you can do it. You never know who you might touch.
First photo: © Nigel Sharp (NOAO) KPNO, AURA, NSF. ( July 21, 2009) Used by permission.
Final photo: © 2015 Immram Chara, LLC.