Tuesday 12 December 2017

Carrie’s life in the wars

Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars
Carrie Fisher with the late Elizabeth Taylor

Hannah Stephenson

Author and former actress Carrie opens up on her battle to become daddy's little princess, her manic depression and why she relies on electric shock therapy.

Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher's world has sometimes seemed as fraught with drama as the fictional galactic battles in which she made her name.

Her dysfunctional life as the child of Hollywood stars Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, drug and alcohol addiction and periods of depression have all been well documented.

Dark times indeed, yet the woman best known for her role as Princess Leia - which must surely be frustrating nearly 35 years on - remains upbeat, witty and self-deprecating.

Her acting awards pale into insignificance against the clutch of gongs she's received for the state of her mind, she notes, recalling a mental health event she recently attended.

"I got an award for being mentally ill. That's the kind of award I get. If I get enough of these I get to trade them in for sanity," she jokes.

When she left the event she was was followed by several Star Wars fans. "There were two crazed fans outside the place with Star Wars pictures, which I signed for them.

"Then they followed my car back to the hotel and said they wanted more. One of the guys said I owed it to them because he was from France. Of course that makes a difference," she says dryly.

Today, people stop her in the street, not just because of her Star Wars fame but because they might suffer from manic depression or have read something she's written they can relate to, she says.

Indeed, the daughter of singing star Fisher and Oscar-nominated actress Reynolds has spent years focusing on her colourful life and times, whether through therapy, rehab or writing.

Her four novels, including Postcards From The Edge, have all been New York Times bestsellers, while her one-woman confessional stage show, Wishful Drinking, was published in book form in 2008, to great acclaim.

In the show she talks about her failed marriages to Paul Simon and the Hollywood agent Bryan Lourd (who fathered her daughter, Billie, but then left her for a man), her friendship with Greg Stevens, a gay Republican lobbyist who was found dead in her California mansion in 2005 from an overdose of painkillers, and her battle with drugs, alcohol and depression.

But plenty more weird episodes are packed into her latest memoir Shockaholic: spending Michael Jackson's last Christmas with him, snorting cocaine with her errant father, making peace with her one-time stepmother Elizabeth Taylor, undergoing electric shock treatment to suppress her depression, her recent dramatic weight loss. The list goes on.

Some of the stories are heartbreakingly sad, yet Fisher, 55, makes them laugh-out-loud funny on the page.

"But being able to make light of situations doesn't mean they're light," she observes soberly.

She continues to live in Hollywood, in a house whose previous occupants include Bette Davis, next door to her 79-year-old mother.

"She still treats me like I'm four, which my daughter tells her that she has to stop doing. We don't see each other every day. I'm not that crazy. I'm being properly medicated."

But it's her relationship with her father, who died last year, which will tug at the heartstrings and no amount of humour can mask the traumatic effect of his earlier desertion and recent death.

She was just two when Eddie Fisher left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor, whom he married before she dumped him for Richard Burton.

Fisher saw very little of her father while she was growing up and was left longing in vain for him to visit. When he did finally show up, she was smitten by his charisma and boyish charm.

After his fifth wife died in 2001, his daughter became his main carer. He finally needed her. No one else would do.

"It meant the world to me. I got a family. I didn't get a father but I got someone who became a very close family member," says Fisher.

"He always needed to be parented, told what to do and what not to do. I need someone to do that with me too, to remind me of certain boundaries."

One of his final wishes was to have 'one last romp', a request which prompted his daughter to make an announcement to the audience at one of her shows that if anyone knew any prostitutes, to leave a note with one of the ushers. No one came forward.

"He'd devoted his entire life to getting laid, sacrificing everything he'd ever had to it - his career, his fortune and basically any real, lasting relationship with either friends or family."

After a period of dementia - although his daily marijuana intake didn't help matters - Fisher broke his hip. He died 13 days later following complications. His death still haunts her.

"I didn't feel like I'd had enough of him, which is destined to be true no matter what. I was getting the best of him."

How did she cope? "Like I do with everything else, I pretend it's not happening until I can't any more. It just haunted me and stayed with me. It still does.

"It bothers me that I wasn't there (she was on tour when when he died). He was calling for me. I felt I let him down. How crazed is that?"

She never asked him why he'd been such an absent father. "He felt guilty, like anyone would, but he never did anything about it. He wasn't capable, honestly. It would have been impossible for him to turn himself inside out and change utterly."

She recalls that he was an "inappropriate but adorable" grandfather to Billie.

"He was a grandfather who liked pot more than she does. That's not really normal, is it? He never tried to adjust himself into the role that was expected."

A year after his death she's aware that her manic depression may return at any time but electroconvulsive therapy, an electric shock treatment which she has been undergoing for the last four years, keeps it at bay.

Forget visions of patients going into uncontrollable convulsions when the power is switched on. She explains that ECT is given under mild anaesthetic and anti-convulsive drugs are administered so only the patient's toes move during the process. It seems to work.

"The depression has postcarded itself from time to time but it hasn't made a return visit," she says.

The ECT may have affected her memory, but she's not sure. "Who knows how much of it is my age, or LSD, or ECT?"

Partners have come and gone, but for the time being Fisher remains single.

"I'd love to have a British African American partner, maybe even one who's straight," she jokes. "I'm just out of a relationship and I'm working my way up to lonely."

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher is published by Simon & Schuster

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