There’s no shortage of reasons to hate the villain of a year that was 2016. Recently, we saw one of the strongest arguments that 2016 was truly evil: the deaths of actress Carrie Fisher and her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, in the span of 24 hours. Really, 2016? It’s like that, huh? Like many who’ve gone before them in 2016, we celebrate them as legends. But, based on the onslaught of media and social media response, we also feel the sadness of their losses more acutely perhaps than other recent celebrity deaths. The idea of a family losing two loved ones, around the holidays and in such swift succession, is unfathomable to most of us. It shouldn’t happen. In this case, the tragedy happened to two legends of American film. As fans continue to mourn these losses, let’s take a moment to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of this Hollywood dream team.
16. They both survived (and thrived) in Hollywood
Making it in Hollywood isn’t exactly easy. Many people want to and have tried, but of course, it takes way more than a mere desire and it takes more than pure talent. It also takes hard work and it seems that luck is a must-have, too. Whatever the winning formula, Debbie Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, both made it happen.
Debbie was in her late teens when she starred in Singin’ In The Rain. She proved herself as an actress and became a fixture in the entertainment industry. Her prolific career in movies, TV and on stage spans several decades. Debbie’s daughter, Carrie, was also very young—not yet 20—when she began filming the first Star Wars film, Episode IV: A New Hope. Eventually, she not only followed in mom’s famous footsteps in front of the camera, she worked behind the scenes as well, writing screenplays.
15. They were such legends that legends played them in a movie
Like any mother-daughter relationship, Debbie’s and Carrie’s had its ups and downs, but they always worked through things, no matter how long it took to do so and they remained devoted to one another until the very end. And if you think that it all sounds like the stuff of movies, well, you’ve got good instincts because their lives were indeed the subject of a movie, in 1990: Postcards from the Edge.
The recent loss of both women only heightens our appreciation of the film, for giving us such an entertaining glimpse into their lives. The film was based on Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. And if that isn’t impressive enough, the movie starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Big stars, playing big stars…gotta love that.
14. Iconic performances: Debbie
Movie fans love a good movie about the movies, perhaps none more so than the 1952 classic Singin’ In The Rain, Debbie’s own breakout hit. It is unquestionably one of the most critically acclaimed, beloved films of all time. The movie offers a comedic take on the transition of the motion picture industry from silent to talking pictures—a time when an actor’s career could suddenly be made, secured or even ended, based on the sound of their voice. It was a uniquely entertaining story that gave audiences a glimpse into the off-screen (fictionalized) lives of actors.
Similarly, Carrie’s Postcards from the Edge gave audiences a look at the lives of an actress and her mother, a former star herself, when the cameras weren’t rolling. Talk about art imitating life, imitating art. Or maybe, it’s the other way around…
13. Iconic performances: Carrie
Carrie was just 19 when she began filming what would be her breakout role as Princess Leia in the first Star Wars movies. This momentous yet turbulent period in her life is revealed in detail in her most recent book, The Princess Diarist (2016), which draws from journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie. As a young adult, she battled personal issues stemming from having a famous movie star for a mom and making a name for herself in the same business. Add to that the pressure of her unexpectedly staggering Star Wars success, as well as her personal struggle with drugs and mental illness (though not yet diagnosed at the time). It was all a recipe for disaster, providing the inspiration for her book, Postcards from the Edge. Happily, Carrie worked her way through her early struggles and enjoyed a lengthy, accomplished career.
12. Real life drama in the public eye: Debbie
The lovely Elizabeth Taylor featured rather prominently into the Debbie and Carrie story, if only for a brief time. Liz was the reason for the divorce between Debbie and her husband, Eddie Fisher, in 1959. Eddie, father to then-three year old Carrie and baby Todd, left Debbie to raise the kids on her own. If you haven’t heard enough stories about good women being wronged by their man, then you can Google this one. It will only make you more impressed by the remarkable fortitude Debbie showed during this phase of her life. She was tough, realistic and practical—which would be impressive for any young mother of two tots under age five, let alone for a famous young actress. Her very public separation won her more loyalty and sympathy from fans, as the tide of public opinion turned against Eddie and Liz and in Debbie’s favor.
11. Taking the high road
The most remarkable part of the Debbie Reynolds-Eddie Fisher-Liz Taylor love triangle is that Debbie later forgave Liz for stealing her man. The two actresses buried the hatchet over dinner when they happened to run into each other in the 1960s, while traveling aboard the same cruise ship. Could this story be any more diva-riffic? In fact, the two even starred in a film together in 2001, entitled These Old Broads, which was written by none other than Carrie. The fact that both mother and daughter were willing to move forward graciously and work with the same woman who’d wrecked their home is admirable; to some it may even be unimaginable. But not for this dream team. These two were classy AF.
10. Real life drama in the public eye: Carrie
Carrie demonstrated her own strength of character, not to mention bravery, in the way she chose to deal with her mental illness. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she worked to combat the stigma that is attached mental illness by writing and speaking publicly about her experience living with it day-to-day. Her candor, often injected with humor and encouragement, served as a source of hope and inspiration to others. Her choice to share this battle publicly also made her an even more endearing and relatable person, setting her apart in an industry riddled with fake-ass people.
Carrie was similarly open in talking about her struggles with body and self-image issues, particularly when she addressed the critics and internet trolls who attacked her physical appearance, in December of 2015. She ended the tweet with a cheeky invite to all the critics to blow her…and her body. Touché, Ms. Fisher.
9. They really had each other’s backs
Carrie was unquestionably courageous about publicly acknowledging her struggles with mental illness. In addition to Postcards, numerous interviews and her 2008 memoir, Wishful Drinking, she was just as public about her struggles with drug abuse. According to Carrie, before she was officially diagnosed, she resorted to drugs as a way to help balance out the inner chaos she felt. Adding to her stress was the resurgence of a lifelong identity crisis: she had often struggled with the notion that she was Debbie Reynolds’ daughter, no more so than during this time and she wanted to distance herself from it all. Mother and daughter stopped speaking for about a decade. But once they reconciled, the women were candid about the time they spent apart, accepting it as another chapter in their story and moving on. Their reconciliation proved that love could conquer all when it came to this mother-daughter bond.
8. Three words: Debbie, Carrie, Oprah
Guess you can consider yourself pretty legit when you’re talking to Oprah, but in the case of this dynamic mother daughter duo, they already knew they were sittin’ pretty by the time they had their chat with Oprah back in 2011. No doubt Oprah felt a little more fabulous after garnering such magnificent star power on one stage. During their time with Oprah, Debbie and Carrie talked about how each one’s fame had impacted the other. Carrie discussed being the child of a star and how it affected her self-image; Debbie joked about being better known as Princess Leia’s mom. Debbie also spoke openly about dealing with Carrie’s mental health diagnosis, shedding further light on the depth of the bond between mother and daughter. She told Oprah that she worried, “How is she going to get along in life? How can I help…”
7. They lived and breathed Hollywood, on-screen and off
Debbie loved the business of show so much that she personally amassed an enormous collection of classic Hollywood-era memorabilia and costumes. Carrie once joked that her mom would give you the shirt off her back—as long as it hadn’t been used in a movie first. She’s the unsung hero of Hollywood history, trying in vain for decades to find a permanent museum to house her priceless and beautiful old movie stuff. Ultimately, she was unable to coordinate an effort, so she had to auction off most of the things. But history will remember her for having a vision that was, unfortunately, ahead of her time. It’s likely that by the time anyone else has the same idea, it will be impossible to assemble even half of the things she’d collected.
6. Hollywood couldn’t get enough of these two
In spite of self-professed misgivings about her life in showbiz, Carrie’s contributions to the industry were innumerable. She wore many hats on top of those Leia buns over the years. She continued acting, too. It just goes to show that she was a total boss and truly her mother’s daughter. Carrie’s screenwriting success with Postcards from the Edge quickly turned into more work, when she was asked to make dialogue re-writes for the movie, Hook. She immediately flourished in that role, becoming a highly-coveted script doctor as well as screenwriter, for movies like Sister Act and The Wedding Singer. Her most recent work includes appearing in a documentary with her mother called Bright Lights, as well as filming the eighth Star Wars installment. Her newest book, The Princess Diarist, was published only weeks before her death.
5. They crushed it on TV
Both women enjoyed TV success as well, including voice work. One of Debbie’s most recent (and not to mention most hilarious) TV roles was that of Grace Adler’s mom, Bobbi, on Will & Grace in the late ’90s/early 2000s. Many of us remember Debbie as the voice of Charlotte the spider in Charlotte’s Web (1973). Debbie was such a sweetheart that she originally offered to provide her voice services free of charge for the animated classic. She and Carrie also did voices for Family Guy over the years, with Carrie as the voice of Peter’s boss, Angela, at the brewery and Debbie as a one-time guest spot in 2008. No doubt this introduced the one-time America’s sweetheart and Princess Leia to new audiences. It is one example of how far-reaching their legacy was in life and will continue to be for generations of fans to come.
4. Like mother, like daughter. Like Carrie? Like Gary!
Both women were dog lovers. Debbie Reynolds was a lifelong dog enthusiast and was photographed with dogs numerous times throughout her life and her career. That puppy love was certainly inherited by Carrie. Carrie’s beloved French bulldog, Gary, was her therapy dog and her almost-constant companion, most recently accompanying his famous mama on her tour to promote Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Carrie was photographed with him many times and she often took him to interviews. It was always apparent that her love for him was boundless.
Gary has his own Instagram and Twitter accounts, each with thousands of followers. In the wake of her passing, as well as Debbie’s, many were relieved to learn that Carrie’s daughter, Billie Lourd, was adopting Gary. It’s nice to know he’s with family.
3. Their third generation
Now it is up to the third generation to carry on the legacy. Carrie’s daughter (and Debbie’s granddaughter), Billie Lourd, has enjoyed her time in the family business thus far. This is in contrast to her mom, who joked wryly more than once about the inevitability of her entrance into show business, after growing up in it, with two famous parents.
In her first Instagram post following their deaths, Billie posted a childhood photo of herself with her mother and grandmother, thanking everyone for their prayers and support. She acknowledged the difficult losses of her Abadaba, as she called Debbie, and her “one and only Momby” (Carrie). In the wake of their deaths, the outpouring of support and love that fans have shown Billie is heartwarming. It’s a reminder that sometimes it’s nice to send positive messages via social media, instead of so much hatred. More people should try it, more often.
2. A Hollywood love story
Surviving family member, Todd Fisher (Debbie’s son and Carrie’s younger brother), has said recently in interviews that the love shared between his mother and his sister was so strong, that they could not bear to be apart from one another. While still reeling from the shock and sadness of Carrie’s untimely death on December 27, 2016, his family suffered another loss. Incredibly, the next day, while discussing Carrie’s funeral arrangements, Debbie suffered an apparent stroke, only moments after saying that she wanted to be with Carrie. Her expression of such deep heartbreak at having to bury one of her children is so sad. It’s almost surreal to think this would be the death of her and yet it was. Their love story has certainly played out in a dramatic, Hollywood-style ending, although we wished it could’ve been a happier one.
1. Their lasting legacy, in one tweet
Following Debbie’s untimely passing, so soon after Carrie’s, Todd posted this poignant, touching illustration by Ricky LaChance on his Twitter account. In the accompanying message, Todd told of having been a witness to their love story his entire life. The image of each woman in their most iconic role, arm in arm, is exactly how he wants to remember them. It’s how he wants us to remember them. And remember we should, with gratitude and fondness.
Needless to say, the legacy of this dynamic duo will live on, through their respective bodies of work. It’s a pretty safe bet that Carrie will be best remembered as Princess Leia, an inspiration to young girls everywhere. Debbie will remain bright-eyed Kathy Selden, singin’ and dancin’ in the rain. Hopefully someday, she will be recognized for her efforts in Hollywood preservation as well. Time will tell.