Growing up I had a few heroes. I always wanted to grow up to be Darth Vader. Sounds concerning that a child should idolise a man who had been half destroyed, who would murder hundreds of children and friends, who would half kill his own wife and hand his own son over to a megalomaniac who has openly planned that same sons death on numerous occasions? I don’t see it like that. Anakin Skywalker gave up everything he had, he was and could have been to try to help the woman he loved. He stuck to his convictions and fought for peace across the galaxy and did everything in his power to restore order. OK, I will admit his methods needed questioning a little at least.
Among my other heroes was fictional characters such as flawed genius Greg House MD, the wise old baboon Rafiki from the Lion King and Chandler from Friends (messed up, not particularly confident, uncoordinated and unsophisticated in most ways, Chandler had a tight group of friends who would go to the ends of earth for him and was, generally, happy). But what of real life Heroes and Heroines? Well, there is a short list that I can remember from my childhood.
Freddie Mercury and David Bowie both come to mind. Both world class song writers, singers and performers. Freddie died when I was just a baby, so what I saw was all looking back with little frame of reference, but a genuinely good man by all accounts I’ve read. Charismatic, confident and unconventional at times, they both provided someone I looked up to a lot as having some qualities I wanted to have myself. I’d like to think someone would see them looking at me now.
That was really it until I got into my teenage years. Throughout the ‘terrible teens’ I picked up a few more. I loved the movies and stand up comedy of Robin Williams, with ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ remaining a favorite on my shelf to this day. As I heard more about the man, the more I understood things he said. Like Robin, I can suffer with depression. The quote “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless” is one that has stuck with me for years, and it still strikes the same chords it did when I first heard it.
Growing up I also read a lot, and like most children one of the books I read (a lot) was Harry Potter. As the films came out I was reintroduced to the genius of Alan Rickman, a man who was as brilliant as an actor as it is possible to be. He is also, from everything I’ve heard over the years, a genuinely good man. Daniel Radcliffe once said that Rickman was the first of the adult actors on set for Harry Potter to treat him as an equal – something that tells you quite a lot given the cast. I also remember a quote of his: “I do take my work seriously and the way to do that is not to take yourself too seriously.” That is a statement that really does sum me up these days, and I’d like to take a moment to thank him for phrasing it so succinctly.
But there was one who really captured my heart at the tender age of 11 years old. I am speaking of course, of Carrie Fisher. I matured quickly, and even at that early age those big brown eyes and slightly mocking smile were all it took to melt my heart. Unsurprisingly, I first saw her in Star Wars, A New Hope.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but when it came to Leia I’m not actually convinced they have invented any words that really do her justice. Not just in terms of her beauty, which is obvious, but in how good a character she was. Headstrong, confident, independent and defiant in the face of, well everyone actually. She was also very intelligent and capable of looking after herself. Quite the female role model – and also a role model for me, a teenage boy. Despite the fact that I was, at the time, a little overweight, shy and rather average looking, having the strength to make my own opinions known and learning to dominate a room was something I can look at and see comparisons with her, even now. If I’m honest, my taste in women these days could actually be summed up by saying “Princess Leia, but without the title, murderous father and pressure of carrying the fate of the galaxy on her shoulders”.
As I got older, I started to wonder about the woman behind the character, the person behind the eyes. I read about the struggles she had had in the 80s with alcohol and drugs, and the all too familiar depression. I also noticed how, despite this, she remained a fan favorite among Star Wars fans. Often when an actor or actress gets involved in such things, their stock drops and the fan-base turns on them. Such was the adoration of Star Wars fans for Carrie that this was never an issue. I also read about the openness she displayed regarding her Bi Polar diagnosis. “I’ve never been ashamed of my mental illness; it never occurred to me. Many people thank me for talking about it, and mothers can tell their kids when they are upset with the diagnosis that Princess Leia is bipolar too.” As Carrie was also a mother, this cannot have always been easy to handle, even by the standard of celebrity lives.
There are three ways to judge someone. One is on the little things they do, the second on the big things they go out of their do to help people. The third is to look at the things they do because is it in their nature. It is my belief that the above, looking for the positive of her condition and using it to help others, says everything you need to know about the nature of the lady that was Carrie Fisher.
Seeing her more recently in the build up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was struck by how, despite the years and pain, there was still a twinkle in her eyes. She was still as beautiful as the day I had first seen her, still with the slightly mocking smile playing on her lips. The line from the same film, as she addresses Han, “You still drive me crazy”, well that just summed up how I felt looking at her.
This year has hurt me in terms of losing heroes, David Bowie and Alan Rickman amongst them. But when I heard on December 23rd that Carrie had been taken into hospital following a heart attack… it was the first time that it actually made me want to go and sit in a room on my own. When my friend turned to me on the 27th and said “she’s dead”… words fail me.
The truth is that as a teenage boy, I had a massive crush on Princess Leia, and Carrie Fisher was the first woman I loved,in my geeky teen way.
So I want to take a moment to say thank you to Carrie. Thank you for the perfect moments on screen. Thank you for not being perfect off screen. Thank you for driving me crazy for 16 years.
October 21, 1956 – December 27, 2016
Mother, Actress, Writer, Princess.