Reynolds, Fisher die just before HBO film on their lives – Up and down in life, together in death

This file photo taken on February 27, 2007 shows actress Carrie Fisher (left), and her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, arriving for Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s 75th birthday party at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas. Debbie Reynolds, the ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ actress who tap-danced her way into American hearts as a star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, died on Dec 28, grief-stricken over daughter Carrie Fisher’s death a day earlier. (AFP)

NEW YORK, Dec 30, (AP): Carrie Fisher played a supporting role at her own birth.

In her 2008 memoir, “Wishful Drinking”, she described the scene. Doctors were running to see her mother, Debbie Reynolds (“At 24 she looked like a Christmas morning,” wrote Fisher). Nurses, meanwhile, were rushing to glimpse her father, the crooner Eddie Fisher.

“So when I arrived I was virtually unattended,” wrote Fisher. “And I have been trying to make up for that ever since.”

Thus began one of the more complicated, thoroughly documented and ultimately tender mother-daughter relationships in Hollywood, one both strained by celebrity and deepened through fiction. (Fisher’s father, who ran off with Elizabeth Taylor, was soon out of the picture.)

As stars from different eras, they could hardly have been more different. Reynolds, the wholesome MGM star of “Singin’ in the Rain”, was the sunny, all-American icon of the 1950s. Fisher, the “Star Wars” princess who comically rebelled against conventional stardom, was the candid, drug-using symbol of Baby Boomers. Their relationship underwent dramatic swings, much of it chronicled in Fisher’s books, and in their big-screen alter-egos: Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) and Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine) in “Postcards From the Edge”, the adaptation of Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel.

But Reynolds and Fisher had this in common: They were both show-business survivors.


Reynolds, three-times divorced, weathered cheating men and swindlers who bilked her for millions. Fisher persisted through bipolar disorder and drug addiction. When the two appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2011 to celebrate their relationship, Fisher said: “I’m not afraid of almost anything. And that’s a lot because of your example.”

That Reynolds, 84, and Fisher, 60, died a day apart — Reynolds on Wednesday, Fisher on Tuesday — was a tragic if not poetic end for a mother and daughter who bridged the gulf that was once between them.

“She said, ‘I want to be with Carrie,’” Todd Fisher, Reynolds’ son, told The Associated Press. “And then she was gone.”

Such a poignant last sentiment was once unfathomable. The two were estranged for nearly a decade in Fisher’s 20s. “I didn’t want to be around her,” Fisher once said. “I did not want to be Debbie Reynolds’ daughter.”

“She was so beautiful, and I dreamed of looking like her one day,” Fisher wrote in her memoir. “I think it was when I was ten that I realized with profound certainty that I would not be, and was in no way now, the beauty that my mother was. I was a clumsy-looking and intensely awkward, insecure girl. I decided then that I’d better develop something else — if I wasn’t going to be pretty, maybe I could be funny or smart.”

It wasn’t only the considerable shadow of her mother that Fisher recoiled from. It was, she often said, being forced to share her with the wider public. (A documentary on their relationship is to air in the new year on HBO.)

“It took like 30 years for Carrie to be really happy with me,” Reynolds told People magazine in 1988. “I don’t know what the problem ever was. I’ve had to work at it. I’ve always been a good mother, but I’ve always been in show business, and I’ve been on stage and I don’t bake cookies and I don’t stay home.”

Reynolds performed frequently while raising two children. That created some distance for Fisher, who recalled phone calls from her mom beginning, “Hello, dear, this is your mother, Debbie.” The child-of-a-star peculiarities were sometimes surreal. Reynolds, for example, had Cary Grant give Fisher a “don’t do drugs” speech when she began developing a taste for them as a teenager. Later, in “Postcards from the Edge”, Fisher depicted the mother as the center of attention even at her daughter’s homecoming from rehab.

“There have been a few times when I thought I was going to lose Carrie,” Reynolds told Winfrey. “I’ve had to walk through a lot of my tears. But she’s worth it.” She added: “Carrie and I have finally found happiness. I always feel as a mother does, that I protect her.”

Fame, of course, eventually found Fisher, too. Reynolds sometimes called herself “Princess Leia’s mother”. Navigating celebrity, disappointing men and depression, the two increasingly found common ground. Before Fisher became an outspoken advocate for mental health issues, Reynolds co-founded a group that has raised millions for mental health. “And four and a half million of that money is allocated just for me,” joked Fisher, introducing her mother at the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Awards.

“She’s an immensely powerful woman, and I just admire my mother very much,” Fisher told NPR’s Fresh Air last month. “There’s very few women from her generation who worked like that, who just kept a career going all her life, and raised children, and had horrible relationships, and lost all her money, and got it back again. I mean, she’s had an amazing life, and she’s someone to admire.”

Their relationship, in all its complexity and candor, grew to be truer than the celebrity that surrounded it. Fisher may have been unattended at birth, but she was joined in death.


NEW YORK: The deaths of actress and writer Carrie Fisher and her Hollywood legend mother, Debbie Reynolds, on successive days this week lend a special poignancy to an upcoming HBO film about their relationship.

The film, “Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher”, is expected to premiere on the pay cable network sometime this spring. HBO representatives did not respond to questions Thursday about whether the stars’ deaths would change plans for the premiere, or whether the documentary would be changed to reflect what happened.

Although it hasn’t been on television, “Bright Lights” was shown earlier this year at film festivals in New York and in France at Cannes. The filmmaking couple Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom of New York made it. A representative said they weren’t available for interviews.

Fisher died Tuesday at age 60 after being stricken on an airplane flight last week. Her mother was rushed to the hospital and died the next day. “She said, ‘I want to be with Carrie,’” her son, Todd, told The Associated Press. “And then she was gone”.

In appearances at the festivals, the filmmakers described the project as Fisher’s initial idea. Her mother was about to give her final live performances in Las Vegas two years ago at age 82, and Fisher wanted to document them.

“Bright Lights” became an examination of the lives of two women, once estranged, who were living in their final years next door to each other in a compound in Beverly Hills, California. “Their loving interdependence seems unbreakable”, the Hollywood Reporter wrote in a review.

Fisher was dealing with the mental illness that fueled some of her memorable writing through the years, and both women were dealing with the toll that increased frailty was taking on Reynolds. A key part of the film was about whether Reynolds would be well enough to accept a lifetime achievement award.

“The axis on which the film turned was their relationship and their love, even though show biz warps the best of people and warps the best of relationships and I’m sure to some degree they would agree it’s warped their family,” Bloom told The Los Angeles Times this fall.

“But at the center of it is love, and that’s sort of undiminished.”

Fisher and the filmmakers said it was initially difficult for Reynolds to get used to the idea of a documentary on their lives. She was comfortable with cameras, but expected to have a script.

“The film is as disorderly in its structure as the messy family history it surveys,” the Hollywood Reporter wrote in its review. “Time spent with these wonderful subjects makes that seem sweetly appropriate.”

The affection that the filmmakers have for their subjects “is quite contagious,” the publication said.

Although HBO hasn’t made clear when “Bright Lights” will air, the network said it is repeating its previous film about Fisher’s life, “Wishful Drinking”, Sunday at 9:00 pm ET. The Logo television network said that it will air a Friday night marathon of television episodes that featured Reynolds, including “Will & Grace”, “Roseanne”, RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Golden Girls”.

Translate »