Carrie Fisher has died, putting yet another nail in this coffin-like 2016. I cried when Bowie died because he was the music of my high school days. I raged when Prince left, sighed when Alan Rickman passed, and I won’t even begin to talk about the presidential election. All of those losses hurt, but Carrie Fisher’s death hit harder and made something ache that I’ve not accessed or thought about for decades—this one feels distinctly and decidedly personal.
I’m a first generation Jewish American daughter. With that identification comes many blessings and quite a few burdens. The blessings include a certain level of religious and cultural identity and freedom, as well as a life-well lived, which is always a great revenge against organized hatred. The curses are small, but include bearing the weight of being good. Insanely good. The memory of perished loved ones, their heroically impossible and death-defying escapes, instilled in me a sense that I had a level of responsibility to not be a fuck-up or I’d not only let down my parents, but all those who had died and all who had been sacrificed. It’s a burden that I carry to this day—the first to say yes to a task that needs to be done; the hardest working; the last to leave a party and always part of the cleaning crew.
But Carrie was different. She was the epitome of the liberated Jewish American girl, and as it turns out, a double kind of princess. The daughter of a fallen Hollywood Jewish prince (Eddie Fisher) and a betrayed Hollywood darling (Debbie Reynolds), she became Princess Leia, the anti-virgin soldier dressed in white with manageable hair that could be twisted into cinnamon buns.
I admired Carrie Fisher as I admired the bad Jewish girls I went to camp with and who I didn’t know existed. They were the confident, cigarette smoking ones who had hair that stayed straight, who stood on long, toned legs and wore hot pants and midriffs from Fred Segal or other stores from Beverly Hills. She was the bad girl I thought I wanted to be, but could never really get right. She was the girl who, when the lights were out in my Reform Jewish summer camp cabin, would tell us about the guys she’d been with as our own sexual bedtime stories. We’d lean in, half entranced and half horrified, as she would go into explicit detail after detail. And she was also the girl who, when I innocently asked what an orgasm was, would have laughed a throaty laugh and kindly explained it to me in a way that was meant to educate, not embarrass.
Carrie Fisher was everything I was raised not to be. She took risks, she did drugs. She was overtly sexual. She was a no bullshit person. Onscreen, she reduced Warren Beatty AND Harrison Ford to good-looking, one-trick ponies. She was mesmerizing and we couldn’t take our eyes off of her. She was clearly the smartest one in the classroom or on the set and not afraid to let the world know. Her risks obviously took their toll, but I will never laugh as loud or as long at the line “Instant gratification takes too long,” because it spoke out loud what all of us well-meaning, overly good Jewish American girls had been holding inside our entire lives. In an inadvertent way, through the very public ups and downs of her life, she gave a generation of Jewish American women permission to put aside the mantle of goodness and to just live our lives with gusto.
It’s strange—I cannot say I counted Carrie Fisher as one of my personal idols. I never thought she was that much of an actress, but she had charisma and confidence and that seeped into my psyche in subtle and not so subtle ways. Not with drugs or alcohol, which never (thank goodness) suited me, but in an early sense of confidence that included leaving my entire family behind to move to New York and pursue my dreams of acting and then writing. I learned how to speak my mind, often and confidently, so much so that well into my 50s, I left a job after my supervisor wanted to coach me on being softer, less “East Coast”—in other words, less of a loud-mouthed Jewish woman.
Last year, my family took me to see the much-awaited new installment of the “Star Wars” series. I felt like I was at a camp or high school reunion, smiling and laughing as each familiar character reappeared on screen. My heart beat faster when Han Solo smirked and was annoyed when the audience gasped at the first sight of Princess Leia years 40 years later. But in perfect Carrie Fisher style and timing, her tweet in response to unkind things said about her appearance will stay with me, and I’m guessing, all of us who tried, probably without much success, to twist our unruly Jewish hair into Princess Leia buns:
“Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well. Unfortunately, it hurts all three of my feelings. My body hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.”
Thank you, Carrie, for living boldly and being a smartass until the very end; for trusting your wicked smart mind and sharing it with us, which in turn has allowed me to find my own way of doing the same. May your force serve as a blessing to your family and friends. I know it will for me.