Hilarious realist: Carrie Fisher was the person everyone would want to sit next to at a wedding | Hadley Freeman
The actor and writer was extraordinary: a woman the same onscreen as off, who could turn addiction and self-loathing into cynical, life-affirming gold
During the later decades of her life, Carrie Fisher became better known for her persona than her actual achievements, although she would probably argue that the shaping of this persona was an achievement in itself, and she would be right. The broken but not bowed survivor, the rehab graduate with black wit, the former Hollywood wild child who tells it like it is: those were the roles Fisher played, perfectly, to the day she died. I saw her perform live only once, when she monologued her life story, titled Wishful Drinking, on the New York stage in the former Studio 54, appropriately enough, as quite a few of her life stories happened on that dance floor.
But Id also happened to have met her five years earlier, through a mutual friend who took me to Fishers house in Los Angeles. Although her show had plenty of attention-grabbing fodder from Fishers parents absurdly famous divorce, to her sudden Star Wars celebrity when her face was on every kids lunchbox, to her well-documented (by her) addictions and mental illnesses what struck me most was how Fisher on stage was pretty much identical to how Fisher was at home. That cynical self-deprecation, that black humour that could turn even the story about waking up next to a dead man into a knowing epigram: they were as much a part of her stage show as they were her chat on a Tuesday night in the kitchen.
She was the person anyone would want to be sat next to at a wedding, because you know she would give you all the gossip about who the bride had slept with before and whether the groom was secretly gay. She was certainly the dream interviewee: to promote her return to Star Wars in The Force Awakens, she rocked up to Good Morning America, a popular US breakfast TV show, and brought along her dog, Gary, whose opinion she sought in answer to various questions. Was she wacky? She was often described as such, and if wacky means, as I suspect it does, a woman who doesnt give a stuff about the rules of the game, then, yes, she was probably wacky. In that same interview, when the journalist mentioned that Fisher lost weight to get back on screen, Fisher replied, with a wry smile, Yes, and I think thats a stupid conversation. And guess what? She was right.
Theres no doubt that the persona Fisher carved for herself etched out to perfection in Postcards from the Edge, her terrific semi-autobiographical novel about her drug addiction and relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds was created partly as armour. She spoke often about her lifelong insecurities and in The Princess Diarist, her most recent book, in which she revealed that she and Harrison Ford had had an affair during the making of Star Wars, she writes at length about feeling like an impostor both on set and off it. And yet she was a talented actor, and it is a real shame that she didnt make more movies. She was note-perfect in When Harry Met Sally as Marie, Meg Ryans neurotic single friend, and adds a necessary dash of sass to counterbalance Sallys gentler flavour. But her persona became, perhaps deliberately, almost too well known, and whenever she appeared in a cameo in Sex and the City, in The Big Bang Theory, even to a certain extent in the new Star Wars films the joke was always: Oh, theres Carrie Fisher. Instead, as a gifted writer, she worked increasingly behind the scenes, doing script doctoring and writing memoirs.
Read any book about celebrities in New York in the 1970s and youll come across Fisher, ingesting more drugs than the whole of the Saturday Night Live cast put together. That Fisher ended up as sane and self-aware as she was, despite her addictions, despite her ridiculous Hollywood upbringing, is a testament to her, as she knew. An interesting comparison can be made between her and Liza Minnelli, who had similar lives. But whereas Minnelli idealises her past and her parents, Fisher preferred to look both squarely in the eye and say it as she saw it. It made living harder for her, I suspect, but a lot more fascinating for those of us gazing up at her, just listening.