Carrie Fisher, the legendary actress best known for playing Leia Organa in the Star Wars series, died Tuesday following a massive heart attack last week aboard a Los Angeles-bound plane.
“It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother Carrie Fisher passed away at 8:55 this morning,” Simon Halls, a spokesman for Fisher’s family, said in a statement to People. “She was loved by the world and she will be missed profoundly. Our entire family thanks you for your thoughts and prayers.”
Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, added in a statement, “Carrie Fisher was one-of-a-kind, a true character who shared her talent and her truth with us all with her trademark wit and irreverence…she will always have a special place in the hearts of Star Wars fans as well as all of us who were lucky enough to know her personally. She will be sorely missed, and we join millions of fans and friends around the world who mourn her loss today.”
Fisher began her acting career early, appearing at 15-years-old alongside her mother Debbie Reynolds in the 1973 Broadway revival of Irene, followed by a big-screen debut in 1975’s Shampoo. At 19, the actress dropped out of St. Lawrence College to star in George Lucas’ space-opera Star Wars, the role that first introduced widespread audiences to Fisher’s unique brand of sweet-tempered fire (“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?“). Fisher — who reprised the role of Leia for two more Star Wars films in 1980 and 1983, along with JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens in 2015 — has never shied away from critiquing the character nor its creator, a refreshing candidness that soon became her calling card.
“The only way they knew to make the character strong was to make her angry,” Fisher told Rolling Stone in 1983. “In Return of the Jedi, she gets to be more feminine, more supportive, more affectionate. But let’s not forget that these movies are basically boys’ fantasies. So the other way they made her more female in this one was to have her take off her clothes.”
“George [Lucas] wasn’t a really hands-on director,” Fisher told Observer, in 2010. “Actually one time someone came to visit the set and after three days said, ‘Which one is the director?’ That was on [the first Star Wars].”
Throughout the years, Fisher appeared in numerous films — The Blues Brothers (1980), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), When Harry Met Sally (1989), to name a few — while behind the scenes she gained reputation as a formidable writer. She enjoyed a lengthy career as a script doctor on films like Sister Act and The Wedding Singer (and, as recently revealed, had much to say about The Empire Strikes Back‘s screenplay), and wrote four novels between 1987 and 2004. The first, Postcards from the Edge, won Meryl Streep an Oscar for a film adaption that was, of course, written by Fisher herself.
Both off and on page and screen, Fisher was open about her battles with drug addiction, as well as a long history with mental illness. “In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls,” Fisher wrote in Wishful Drinking, a 2009 autobiography based on her one-woman show. “At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
In 2015, when the Star Wars universe once again needed Leia, Fisher was the star of the press tour from beginning to end, showcasing not the Carrie Fisher we remembered but a Carrie Fisher that never left. “I have to censor myself, which is not an impulse of mine,” Fisher told the Telegraph about the lead up to The Force Awakens, and truer words were never spoken. The then 59-year-old actress was both charmer and sage; she made a star of her French bulldog, Gary, and offered an open candidness practically unheard of in Hollywood, much less in the lead-up to a billion dollar tentpole.
“I told her not to go through the crew like wildfire,” Fisher said on The Graham Norton Show, on her advice to Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley. “But I also told her not to take any advice from me.”
Fisher was set to play Leia in two more sequels in the Star Wars universe, a galaxy that is now without its brightest star; or, rather, the one that always seemed the least far away. Fisher is survived by her mother, Reynolds, and daughter Billie Lourd.