I was surprised and saddened at the news of actress/writer Carrie Fisher’s recent death, and doubly so to learn, just minutes ago, that her famous mother, the unsinkable Debbie Reynolds, had passed away just one day later.
It goes without saying that the world will not be the same without this talented duo.
A long time ago, in a universe far, far away, I saw Ms. Fisher in person, as I was later privileged to watch Ms. Reynolds perform live. Both experiences were entirely unforgettable, as you might imagine.
I was attending a writer’s conference in Southern California, and we were all tremendously excited because Ms. Fisher was to be the keynote speaker. By then, she had appeared in “Star Wars” and penned her brilliant novel, “Postcards from the Edge.” If I remember correctly, she and author Catherine Coulter shared an agent, and Catherine somehow managed to book Ms. Fisher for the evening; the group could surely not have afforded her speaking fee, so someone was doing someone else a favor–although there were moments when things seemed dicey. Ms. Fisher had recently given birth to her daughter, Billie, and she appeared in the author’s suite in a housecoat and slippers. (Yes, a housecoat and slippers.) She clearly did not want to hobnob, and she glowered at everyone who dared make eye contact. All righty, then. We were braced for just about anything. And that was what we got. Ms. Fisher, still pudgy from her pregnancy, probably in need of medication, did give her speech, reading with it from typed pages, which she proceeded to drop when she’d reached the last line, so that each one drifted, snowflake style, to the floor. It was strangely hypnotic.
I can still see her, so small she could barely see over the podium, chain-smoking like mad (which gives you an idea just how long ago this was) and powering her way through page after page. A few audience members were annoyed, but most of us, myself included, were fascinated. Even in a dark mood, Carrie Fisher was absolutely brilliant–I’ve met a lot of witty people in my lifetime, but she was in a class by herself, surely the mistress of the one-liner. I don’t regret one moment of that night, though I do feel deep sympathy for her dreadful struggles with depression, and it breaks my heart to know she went through so much over the years. I’ve read all her books, and with each one, I marveled at her sense of humor, her formidible intelligence and, yes, her talent.
Years later, I saw Ms. Reynolds perform in a Nevada casino. She must have been in her mid-to-late 60s at the time, but she put on a wonderful show, singing, dancing, and making very funny remarks about her ex-husbands. She was so tiny, and still beautiful, and she was absolute dynamite on that stage! Her energy and the power of her voice were mind-blowing, and seeing her in person is one of my favorite memories. If you’re around my age (ahem), you surely remember the “Tammy” movies, and just about everyone with a remote interest in musicals has seen “Singin’ in the Rain”, the Gene Kelly classic. Unless I’m mistaken (it happens), our Debbie knew little or nothing about dancing when she was signed to appear in a feature film with one of the most talented hoofers who ever lived. Mr. Kelly, a major star as well as a perfectionist, virtually bullied her (I think she was 19) through take after take, but, being the trouper she was, that sweet, fresh-faced girl from Texas hung in there. In fact, she proved to be Texas-tough, enduring the scandal after her first husband, Eddie Fisher, left her and their two small children for Liz Taylor, and again after her second husband spent every cent of her money.
I think it’s safe to say it, my friends. They just don’t make ’em like those two anymore.
Godspeed, Princess Leia; may the Force be with you. Fare-thee-well, Tammy. You were the definition of the word ‘star’.
You will both be deeply missed, and long remembered.