Mental Health Advocate Carrie Fisher Gave Us So Much More Than Princess Leia
In the televised version of Carrie Fisher's one-woman show, Wishful Drinking — released as an HBO documentary in 2010 — Fisher makes her way around a stage that's been arranged to look like a cozy living room, absolutely spilling her shit.
She talks about her convoluted family tree — the result of being the spawn of romantically prolific Hollywood royalty — her recollections of Star Wars' astronomical success and its aftermath, and her own romantic travails. She's barefoot and wears stretchy pants and an oversized shirt — it's Fisher at her essence, with any discernible pretense stripped away.
A Boston Globe critic accused Fisher of being "boastful about her dysfunction" in the show, but I'd beg to differ with that assessment. I don't see someone boasting — I see a woman saying to a bunch of her friends (in the audience and elsewhere) that it's OK to be fucked up.
Since 1987, when her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards From the Edge — about an actress fresh out of drug rehab — was released, Fisher has been an outspoken advocate for people struggling with addiction and mental illness. Earlier this year, she began writing an advice column for The Guardian; her final column was about bipolar disorder, which she's said she had since she was a teen. She's spoken on more than one occasion about the shock-therapy treatments she's long undergone, normalizing a condition and a potential solution that might otherwise seem shameful or extreme.
This morning, when it was announced by daughter Billie Lourd that Fisher had died after suffering a heart attack on a plane late last week, as the obits began rolling out, much of the focus was — predictably, I guess — on her iconic Star Wars role. "Carrie Fisher, ‘Star Wars’ Royalty, Dies at 60," The New York Times declared, vastly downplaying Fisher's other contributions as a writer and performer. The obit wrapped up: "Ms. Fisher established Princess Leia as a damsel who could very much deal with her own distress, whether facing down the villainy of the dreaded Darth Vader or the romantic interests of the roguish smuggler Han Solo."
On Twitter, however, a number of writers and comedians recognized Fisher's most important legacy ...
Carrie Fisher was the perfect reminder of what cool things can happen when you allow mental illness to inspire instead of repress.— Jeffery Self (@JefferySelf) December 27, 2016
Carrie Fisher didn't just have an iconic role. She inspired millions who struggle with mental illness and addiction. That was her power.— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) December 27, 2016
Carrie Fisher's ability to frankly address addiction and mental illness is her greatest legacy. https://t.co/I2frErQSs3— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) December 27, 2016
Carrie Fisher's Postcards From the Edge was the first book I ever read about mental health. It is raw and brilliant and funny and inspiring.— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) December 27, 2016
Carrie Fisher did more to combat mental health stigma by being open about her struggles with bipolar and addiction than did most politicians— Sara Benincasa
On top of political catastrophes that I won't belabor here, 2016 really has been a shitty year in terms of taking from us icons who made being different OK, beginning with Bowie in January and wrapping up with George Michael and Fisher in December. The world seems to be getting worse every day — and losing people who made generations of outsiders feel empowered and more secure in the things that made them different hasn't helped.
2017 will be here soon, but in the meantime, keep calm and watch Wishful Drinking.
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