Dear Carrie Fisher,
I know you won’t ever read this, since, well, you passed away this morning, but that’s not the point—well, actually, in a roundabout way it is.
I’m writing you this letter to thank you. Actually, I’m writing a letter to express my thanks to you. It’s for other people to read since you can’t. Still, I need to say this to you, to people who know who you are, and to the universe at large:
Thank you for understanding, because your life forced you to, what the role of celebrity is and why people need them. You were the child of celebrities, Hollywood royalty at its most pure-blood, and became an icon in your own right. You’ve endured a lot as a celebrity.
High profile lives mean every mistake is a high-profile mistake. You’ve had yours. You owned them. You overcame them because instead of denying them, you acknowledged and understood your faults. “I have to start [this memoir] by telling you that my entire existence could be summed up in one phrase. And that is: If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable” you say in Wishful Drinking. You also said, “We’re only as sick as our secrets,” so you took every defeat and turned it into a morality tale that was as charming as it was admonishing. An addiction to opiates is not a good thing. Acknowledged. Overcome. Bipolar 2 is a real thing, and people who have it can make terrible decisions. Acknowledged. Fought. In doing these things, you have helped countless people face their own demons. You diffused serious subjects with humor, and made these scary things that you lived through somehow less intimidating or taboo for the rest of us.
This is perhaps the great role of celebrity: to be someone others can see. You were an extremely reluctant role model, but you understood that you were one, whether you wanted to be or not. Once I went to see your one-woman show. My brother and I hung around afterward in case you came out to do autographs or something. We waited a while then finally asked one of the theater workers. “No she doesn’t come out. We just saw her for setup and the show. She’s a really private person,” the worker said. I remember not really being disappointed, but instead being rather happy for you. Good choice, I thought. You’ve appeared, acknowledged all things people know about you, telling stories about your famous playboyish father, your Hollywood musical icon (and drag queen muse—God bless her for it) mother, your marriage to Paul Simon, and you even donned a “cinnamon bun” wig to acknowledge your iconic role as Princess Leia.
You joked about being a Pez dispenser, about George Lucas (now Disney) owning your likeness “So every time I look in the mirror I have to pay him.” You knew that your notoriety was what would draw people, from curious to obsessed. You saw that people needed you to be Princess Leia for them. You gave us that. You understood that the public needed you to appear at ComicCon. You understood that countless teenage boys (and older) fantasized about you. Why do we ask this of you? Why aren’t you allowed to just be a “normal” person? You could never be that, not with your family, not with Star Wars. So you accepted your fame and you used it to talk about these things that people face. You are Hollywood, which equals American, royalty. You are our people’s Princess.
You, too, survived injustices and poor choices, pitfalls of fame and bipolarism. But you never gave up, and you never gave in. Thank you.
I’ve written elsewhere about how you became my role model, about how when I was growing up and was told to “act more like a lady,” and when I saw Princess Leia I thought, if that’s a lady, well, maybe I can do that. And how later when I learned more about you, Carrie Fisher, I looked up to you even more than the character you played. What I admired was this self-acknowledgement, this intelligent and sacrificial choice to embrace your role as a public figure.
The truth is, Princess Leia is so much of you. She shares your tenacity, your idealism, your compassion, your understanding of darkness and your battle to never succumb to it. No one could have made that character but you, acknowledged British accent in the first film included. She needed your strength. She is a symbol of human strength, class, good fighting evil, and hope. You gave her those qualities. George Lucas and Disney should still be paying you for it.
Thank you for fighting a good fight. Thank you for being who we needed you to be for us. Thank you for using pain to open up your world, not close it. Thank you for being our princess.
What I hope for you, and for you family, is peace. No more struggles. No more pain. No more needing to overcome. Death is loss and death is evil. But in it I hope you were granted some kind of release, and I hope your loved ones are comforted even though there is nothing to replace their loss.
I hope fans leave them alone. We have lost, too, but we will grieve selfishly. We loved you even though we knew your celebrity, not you personally. You gave us yourself and, like all celebrities, you will give us yourself in death. We will grieve though we didn’t know you because you meant something to us. But I hope all of us public mourners remember that what we are grieving is just that—what you meant to us, not who you were.
I hope that in death you are freed from who you need to be for others and that you are allowed to just be, just you and whatever comes next. I’m a Christian, so I have my thoughts on what does come next for all of us after death, most of which are beside the point here. I think you will meet something Eternal and account for your life. That is between you and the Eternal. But I believe you understand sacrificial love and I pray you do have peace and rest.
The most fitting goodbye I can give you is in your own words. Near the end of your book The Best Awful the character based on you, Suzanne, acknowledges her complicated relationship with Leland, the father of her child. The scene ends in a quiet way that understands and acknowledges everything between them. Your keen observance, your insightful thinking, and your way with words are all summed up.
“And smiling, she lifted her ubiquitous glass of Diet Coke to Leland and nodded. And sipping her drink, she bowed and walked off the stage.”
God bess you, Carrie Fisher, and grant you peace.