New biography looks at Carrie Fisher’s ‘Life on the Edge’

Fisher went on to play some highly praised roles, often as the wisecracking best friend in such movies as When Harry Met Sally..., but her second act was mainly as a writer.

Actress Carrie Fisher dead at 60 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Actress Carrie Fisher dead at 60
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Carrie Fisher, the actress/writer best known for starring as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies and who died at the age of 60 in 2016, is the subject of a recently published and addictively readable biography, Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge (Sarah Crichton Books, available as an e-book) by Sheila Weller. It’s the kind of book you should wait to start until you have a lot of free time because you won’t want to put it down.
Fisher will be gracing screens for one last time when Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which is billed as the last installment in the Star Wars series, is released on December 18 in Israel (December 20 in the US and many parts of the world). Although she died before this movie was filmed, there was enough unused footage from the previous films for director J.J. Abrams to cut together a performance for her character. But although this role made her an icon, Fisher was so much more.
Weller embraces her multifaceted subject and illuminates Fisher’s life with the same sensitivity and attention to detail she displayed in her previous books, among them The News Sorority and Girls Like Us, a look at the lives of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon that is a must for music lovers.
“I love writing about complex women. She was a host of contradictions,” Weller said in a phone interview from New York.
Following Fisher’s death after suffering cardiac arrest on a plane bound from London to Los Angeles in late 2016, “There was a huge outpouring of love for her. She was so wildly loved because of her honesty and wit,” Weller said. She quotes Josh Rottenberg who eulogized her in The Los Angeles Times as “famous and beloved for simply being herself.”
Fisher, who was famous for her quips, often said, “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is unacceptable,” which was her “main maxim,” according to Weller.
And although it was cut short, Fisher had a quite a life. She was the daughter of all-American movie star Debbie Reynolds and Jewish crooner Eddie Fisher – whom Weller likens to the Kardashians of their day – and grew up being used as a virtual prop by the press (and her mother) after her father left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor in a headline-grabbing divorce. Although they had a difficult relationship, mother and daughter remained close their entire lives and, in a heartbreaking twist, Reynolds died the day after Carrie.
Carrie Fisher went on from her chaotic childhood to become the sweetheart of an entire galaxy when she was cast, in spite of her petite stature and girl-next-door (rather than model-perfect) looks, as the heroine of what seemed like an odd sci-fi flick by an awkward guy named George Lucas that turned out to be Star Wars.
Even while she enjoyed her success in the film, she was plagued by mood swings and emotional problems that were eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder. This disorder led her to self-medicate with a cocktail of powerful and mostly harmful drugs on and off for most of her life.

BUT FISHER was able to laugh about almost everything and to get others to laugh with her. She took all the liabilities she was born with – a self-absorbed and controlling mother, an absent father who himself became a drug addict, the pressures of Hollywood and her own mood disorder – and turn them into literary gold. She wrote several highly praised semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge, which was made into a hit movie by Mike Nichols starring Shirley MacLaine and Meryl Streep as characters based on Reynolds and Fisher. The books were funny, sad and true. “She was her generation’s Dorothy Parker,” said Weller.
Fisher went on to play some highly praised roles, often as the wisecracking best friend in such movies as When Harry Met Sally..., but her second act was mainly as a writer. Although she rarely spoke about it, she became a sought-after and highly paid script doctor.
She also took on the role of advocate for those with bipolar disorder, a mental health problem that was rarely discussed openly when she spoke to Diane Sawyer in a 2000 interview about a psychotic break she had suffered. “She was a pioneer in dealing with bipolar disorder and drug addiction,” said Weller. “She was one of the main de-stigmatizers.” In a recent article for USA Today, Weller wrote that Fisher’s mental health advocacy was as important as her acting.
Fisher was married first to Paul Simon (who wrote lovely songs about her, including “Hearts and Bones” in which he described them as “One and one half wondering Jews/Free to wander wherever they choose”) and then to agent Bryan Lourd (with whom she had a daughter, actress Billie Lourd, who appears with her in the new Star Wars film), who left her for another man.
But she was able to share her adventures, including her heartaches, with readers and audiences through her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, as well as in memoirs such as The Princess Diarist (based on the diaries she kept while making the first Star Wars film, during which, she revealed that she had had an affair with her married costar, Harrison Ford) and Shockaholic, in which she shared how electro-convulsive therapy had helped her treatment-resistant depression.
All of these achievements combined to give Fisher a special place in the culture. Weller was impressed how, at the women’s marches in 2017 following Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, “Princess Leia posters were lofted by women who weren’t even born yet when [the first] Star Wars came out.”
Fisher also spoke up against age-shaming and weight-shaming after treatments for her bipolar disorder induced weight gain. Weller quotes Fisher as saying to Terry Gross on NPR, “What I didn’t realize, back when I was this 25-year-old pinup for geeks, was that I had signed an invisible contract to stay looking the exact same way for the next 30 or 40 years. Well, clearly, I’ve broken that contract.”
Asked about Fisher’s Jewish heritage, Weller said, “I’m sure she saw herself as culturally Jewish.... Her parents had an extremely mixed marriage in a time mixed marriages didn’t exist. They were America’s sweethearts, and America was changing and becoming more tolerant by embracing them.” Fisher saw her father’s parents a few times in Philadelphia and as an adult would have Passover Seders with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.
One aspect of Fisher’s life that shines through is the many close and loyal friendships she maintained throughout her life. People were often intimidated at the thought of meeting Fisher, Weller said, but then found, “She was an incredibly warm person. She asked them questions about themselves.... They often ended up seeing her as a kind of therapist, she took such a profound interest in them.”