Carrie Fisher’s death is being mourned by all sections of the arts and entertainment community, from fellow actors to rock stars and authors. Here, we reflect on five ways the actress and writer changed the face of popular culture.
She invented Girl Power
Fisher once self-deprecatingly characterised her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars as a lot of “running down corridors”. Of course, she represented much more than that, not least because she was the only woman in a suffocatingly male cast.
Some of her appeal came from the screenplay, of course, but Fisher imbued Leia with a toughness, independence, strength and whip-smart humour that would later be evidenced in other strong female characters, from Sigourney Weaver’s vigorous Ripley in Alien to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer – and even Elsa in Frozen.
Though Fisher might have protested otherwise, she knew it. “I am the beginning of girl power,” she said last year. “Deal with it.”
She trademarked style
In her recent autobiography, Fisher said that if she had known Star Wars was going to be anything other than a “cool little off-the-radar movie”, she “definitely would have argued against that insane hair”.
But the bagel bun was a calling card, and signature hairstyles have became shorthand for ethereal, intriguing characters: think Daenerys’s ice blonde locks in Game Of Thrones or Effie Trinket in Hunger Games.
And then there was Leia’s gold bikini in Return Of The Jedi, the object of teenage boys’ wide-eyed obsession and feminist derision. Fisher hated it. But, as she pointed out, what redeemed that nearly naked look is that she got to kill the evil, slimy Jabba The Hutt wearing it. So Cool.
She took down Hollywood
These days it is the preserve of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman or Lena Dunham to tear mercilessly into Hollywood’s foibles, iniquities and plain stupidity – and they have made very good careers out of it.
But Fisher really refused to play the game – brash, wisecracking and, thanks to an entire life lived in the Hollywood spotlight, unafraid to call out “the heartbreak of celebrity” for what it was, particularly in her writing.
It was a shtick that never left her – promoting last year’s Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, she brought her dog to an interview on Good Morning America, got its opinion on various issues and then roasted the journalist when he brought up that she had lost weight to appear on screen.
She ended typecasting
OK, so everyone knew Fisher as Princess Leia. But for her own part, she refused to be defined by the role – and it is not a stretch to suggest it is thanks to her trailblazing that the likes of Jennifer Lawrence can now star in Hunger Games and then also write a comedy.
Admittedly, Fisher didn’t have a stellar acting career post Star Wars – although she is brilliant in When Harry Met Sally – but the no-holds-barred style of her bravely honest “sort of memoirs” revealed her to be a fascinatingly adept self-chronicler, full of sardonic humour and wry amusement at her frankly madcap life.
This is a woman who wrote a comedy drama about mental health and addiction – 1990’s Postcards From The Edge – that ended up being a multi award-winning film.
She meant something to real people
For all the effect Fisher has undoubtedly had on popular culture, it would be fitting if the Outstanding Achievement Award In Cultural Humanism she received this year from Harvard College was her lasting legacy.
The college said that “her forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction and mental illness … have advanced public discourse with creativity and empathy”.
There was something remarkable in the way she was able to use her widely publicised personal battles to talk and write honestly, carefully and with humour, about why mental illness needn’t be a limitation.
“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope,” was one of her most famous lines. But throughout her life, Fisher gave real hope and help to people from all walks of life.