Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016) and Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)


It was a shock to those of a certain age.  Maybe to everyone. 

Carrie Fisher.  Princess Leia.  A strong, brilliant, exceptional person.  Gone.

And no sooner had we time to process that loss, her mother, Debbie Reynolds was gone, too.  A legend of Hollywood.  And like her daughter, strong and talented and exceptional.

A look at their lives and careers shows an amazing number of similarities.  Both were still in their teens when they were cast in movies that changed their lives.  Both married singers.  Both were hit with trials and triumphs throughout their lives, both personal and professional.  And both were open and honest about those circumstances and didn’t hide their shortcomings or their determination to overcome whatever life threw at them.

Debbie was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas.  Her family moved to Burbank, California when she was very young.  A tomboy, she nonetheless entered the Miss Burbank beauty contest and won.  That led to a contract with Warner Brothers Studio, where her name was changed to Debbie.  She was a natural in front of the camera.  The stay at Warner was short, and soon Debbie was at MGM where she landed a starring role in the musical Singin’ in the Rain opposite Gene Kelly.  Debbie had very little experience with dancing, so Kelly set about teaching her.  A perfectionist and stern taskmaster, Kelly worked Debbie until her feet bled.  The story goes that Fred Astaire found her crying and offered to help her with her dancing.  The result was film history.  The quintessential movie musical is a classic that continues to entertain us.  And according to Debbie the hardest thing she ever did – except for childbirth.

From then on, Debbie worked in numerous films, from musicals to comedies to dramas.  She was America’s Sweetheart.  Her marriage in 1955 to singing heartthrob Eddie Fisher was the cover story in all the gossip magazines.  That continued through the births of daughter Carrie and son Todd.  And through the disintegration of the marriage in 1959.
 
Debbie would marry two more times.  Both marriages also ended in divorce.  But she persevered, kept working, kept going.  She was nominated for an Oscar for the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  In 2014 she received the Screen Actors Guild award for Lifetime Achievement.  And in 2015, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy Awards.

Carrie Fisher was born into the Hollywood life.  She became an actress in her teens, making her debut in the Warren Beatty film Shampoo.  Her next film made her a star.  As Princess Leia in Star Wars, Carrie was smart, tough, a natural leader.  Along with co-stars Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, she went on to reprise the role in three more movies.  Other movies came along, and Carrie worked steadily.

But there were also problems.  An engagement to Dan Ackroyd was short-lived.  Her marriage to singer Paul Simon ended in divorce.  Carrie had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  She fought addictions to prescription drugs and cocaine.  However, Carrie worked to overcome her problems.  And subsequently was open about them.

That openness led her to writing.  In 1987, her first novel, Postcards from the Edge, was published.   It was a best seller and became a feature film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.  Carrie herself adapted the screenplay.

In 1992, Carrie’s relationship with talent agent Bryan Lourd led to the birth of their daughter Billie.  Billie Lourd is continuing the family tradition of acting and is a regular in the TV series Scream Queens.
 
Continuing her acting and writing, Carrie won acclaim for both over the years.  In the book and one-woman show Wishful Drinking, Carrie detailed many of the ups and downs of her life.  Then in 2014, she returned to the role that truly started her career.  Now as General Leia Organa, Carrie starred in Star Wars: the Force Awakens, again with her original co-stars Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill.  Released in 2015, the film was a great success.  In 2016, she released a new book about her life and career.  Titled The Princess Diarist, it was another best seller.

Carrie had finished work on the next Star Wars film.  On a flight from London to Los Angeles, she had a heart attack.  A few days later, on December 27, she died.
 
According to her brother Todd, their mother Debbie was heartbroken.  While making arrangements for Carrie’s funeral, Debbie told her son how much she missed her daughter and wanted to be with her.  On December 28, one day after Carrie’s death, Debbie suffered a stroke and passed away.

Two amazing women.  Two amazing lives.  Two people will we greatly miss.


Debbie Reynolds

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Hit the Deck (1955)
The Tender Trap (1955)
Tammy and the Bachelor (1957)
How the West was Won (1962)
Goodbye Charlie (1964)
The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
The Singing Nun (1966)
Charlotte’s Web (voice) (1973)
Kiki’s Delivery Service (voice) (1989)
Halloweentown (1998)
Will & Grace (1999-2006)
One for the Money (2012)
Behind the Candelabra (2013)

The Dick Cavett Show. Hollywood Greats
Hollywood Singing and Dancing : a Musical History
That's Entertainment

Merry Christmas from Pat Boone, Vikki Carr, Tony Orlando, Debbie Reynolds (CD)

Make 'Em Laugh : Short-term Memories of Longtime Friends
Unsinkable


Carrie Fisher

Star Wars : a New Hope (1977)
Star Wars : the Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Wars : Return of the Jedi (1983)
Star Wars : the Force Awakens (2015)

The Blues Brothers (1980)
The ‘Burbs (1989)
When Harry met Sally (1989)
Drop Dead Fred (1991)
The Women (2008)
Fanboys (2009)
It’s Christmas, Carol! (2012)

Wishful Drinking (2010)

Postcards from the Edge (1987)
Surrender the Pink (1990)
Delusions of Grandma (1994)
The Best Awful (2003)
Wishful Drinking (2008)
Shockaholic (2011)
The Princess Diarist (2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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lickr: CC  : Actress-Singer Debbie Reynolds with Baby Daughter Carrie Fisher, 1956  Photo by Classic Film