An Unbreakable Bond: Debbie Reynolds & Her Daughter, Carrie Fisher
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Despite having their ups and downs, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher later shared an inspiring mother-daughter bond.
Yes, 2016 was an unusually cruel year for celebrity deaths.
We lost so many notable public figures—among them, some of the world’s most influential artists—and in such a short span of time that it’s hard to fully comprehend. It started with David Bowie and Alan Rickman, both 69, in January and concluded, tragically, with the double-blow losses of Carrie Fisher, 60, and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, 84.
But there’s something about the deaths of Fisher and Reynolds that hit us a little harder: The mother-daughter duo had suffered a tumultuous decade of estrangement only to reconnect later in life in what was seen by many as a happy Hollywood ending—the rare celebrity reconciliation that forged itself into a genuine bond. It was that inspiring relationship, combined with their activism and brutally honest wit, that made their losses all the more keenly felt.
Fisher passed away on December 27, 2016, a couple days after suffering massive cardiac arrest onboard a flight from London to Los Angeles. Her mother, Reynolds, followed her less than 24 hours later after suffering a stroke while making Fisher’s funeral arrangements with her son (and Carrie’s younger brother), Todd.
“She wanted to be with Carrie,” Todd Fisher, 58, told Variety shortly after his mother’s passing. “The last thing she said…was that she was very, very sad about losing Carrie and that she would like to be with her again. Fifteen minutes later she suffered a severe stroke.”
Both women spent the majority of their lives in front of a camera, growing up in front of an adoring audience. When Reynolds divorced Eddie Fisher in 1959 after his much-publicized affair with Elizabeth Taylor, an overwhelming majority of the public took Reynolds’ side, labelling Taylor a “homewrecker.” And, although Reynolds recovered from her run-in with the tabloids, fame took an even bigger toll on the young and impressionable Fisher. She’d had her first stint in rehab by the age of 28, nearly a decade after her sudden, atmospheric rise to fame as Princess Leia in 1977’s Star Wars.
Fisher’s drug use and bipolar disorder diagnosis caused her to turn away from her mother, declaring that she was distancing herself from Reynolds in an attempt to seek her own identity, separate to that of her mom’s iconic status. Mother and daughter didn’t speak for 10 years.
Fisher would eventually recapture this tumultuous period with Reynolds in her 1987 semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards From the Edge. In 1990, it was adapted into a film directed by Mike Nichols, and starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.
“We had a fairly volatile relationship earlier on in my 20s,” Fisher told Oprah Winfrey, during a 2011 taping of Oprah. “I didn’t want to be around her. I did not want to be Debbie Reynolds’ daughter.”
Reynolds, who appeared on Oprah with her daughter, said: “It’s very hard when your child doesn’t want to talk to you and you want to talk to them, and you want to touch them, you want to hold them. It was a total estrangement. She didn’t talk to me for probably 10 years. So that was the most difficult time of all. Very painful, very heartbreaking.”
But it was after Reynolds’ third divorce (from Richard Hamlett in 1996) that mother and daughter truly reconnected and kept in frequent contact, eventually becoming next door neighbours. The pair were inseparable. And, in an effort to eradicate the stigma often associated with mental health diagnoses, both were vocal advocates, specifically Fisher who candidly discussed her disorders and treatments during interviews, in memoirs and during her 2009 one-woman Broadway show, Wishful Drinking.
“I am mentally ill,” she once told reporters. “I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.”
As recently as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards in January 2015, Fisher presented Reynolds with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and their love and respect for one another was palpable. While on the podium to introduce her legendary mom, Fisher quipped, “[She’s the] grandmother to my alleged daughter” and an “unsolicited stylist, interior decorator and marriage counsellor.”
The once-fraught relationship between mother and daughter had finally blossomed into one of mutual love, respect and forgiveness—which isn’t exactly a common story among the Hollywood elite, especially when your family is considered Hollywood royalty. But Reynolds and Fisher—due to their familial bond and advocacy—were an inspiration to many and will be greatly missed.
Reynolds and Fisher are survived by Todd Fisher, 58, and Carrie’s daughter, 24-year-old actress Billie Lourd.
Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds aired on HBO in March 2017.