We all know that 2016 as been a terrible year when it comes to our idols and icons. From the start of the year when it devastated with the death of David Bowie, right up until Christmas day, when one of my 80s childhood icons George Michael shockingly died in his sleep at the age of just 53, 2016 will long be remembered as the year many of the heroes died. Today we have woken with the news that Hollywood legend Debby Reynolds has died after suffering a stroke, just a day after the death of her daughter, Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher. It is shocking that two ladies, who defined just how magical Hollywood could be, as well as how cruel it could be too, could be gone just like that, and heartbreaking that Debby went so soon after her daughter, with whom she had a volatile relationship.
Both women hold very special memories for me. My own mother is obsessed with musicals, they played a very big part of my life growing up, and ‘Singin in the Rain’ was one of the best, an absolute classic that was both poignant and hilarious. No film shows better the reality of the beginning of the talking pictures, and how stars like Lina Lamont (Jean Hagan – hilarious) were suddenly out in the cold. Debby was just wonderful as Kathy, the new kind of star – pert, pretty, full of talent and personality. I watched it again on Christmas day, and her chemistry with Gene Kelly is just beautiful.
Debby found notoriety when her husband (Carrie’s father) Eddie Fisher, abandoned her for the widowed Elizabeth Taylor. Carrie hated the saintly persona that was then attached to her by America’s press, the America’s Sweetheart tag was far from true about the woman or her marriage, and she later reconciled with Taylor, who had once been her best friend. Her second husband left her heavily in debt. But Reynolds was nothing if not a survivor, and Hollywood has lost one of the true greats with her passing.
One of the first films I ever saw at the cinema was ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and I was instantly fascinated by Princess Leia. Princesses in my very narrow view were beautiful and needed saving. This lady was anything but. She was kick ass, intelligent, a leader, and as much a part of the action as any of the men. How could I fail to love her. Plus her hair and that white frock were divine. Dad had to go out and buy me a Leia doll there and then. (and a Chewbacca come to think of it…but that’s another story).
Carrie Fisher was a total original, only an actress of her drive and determination could’ve made Leia such an icon, one that she found it very hard to move away from. Like her mother in many ways, she was defined by that one, standout characterisation, although she made other fine films including ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and, one of my personal faves, ‘Soapdish’. But Carrie suffered from problems, a shortlived marriage to Paul Simon, drink and drug dependency and mental illness. She chronicled many of these issues in ‘Postcards from the Edge’, made into a film with Meryl Streep that showed just how volatile her relationship with her mother had been. It was a brilliant, brutal story, all the more harrowing for being true.
Carrie packed a lot of life into those 60 years, she was one of a kind, a unique brilliant woman who never conformed to a Hollywood stereotype. That is why she will be so, so missed.