On Tuesday, Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 after suffering a heart attack during a flight to Los Angeles. As an actress, Fisher was best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies, but, later, as an author and public figure, Fisher became known as an outspoken voice on addiction, mental health, and the perils of a life lived too seriously.
Over the course of her life, Fisher wrote five novels and three works of nonfiction, including a slightly-fictionalized version of her life Postcards from the Edge and, most recently, The Princess Diarist, a memoir based on the journals she kept during the filming of Star Wars. In her writing and her interviews, Fisher consistently offered gems on how to get by in a messed up world. Below are just a few of the lessons we can learn from her.
1. Mental illness needs to be normalized.
In her 2008 memoir Wishful Drinking, which was adapted from her one-woman show, Fisher wrote, as she often did, about mental illness. Fisher, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 24, directly addressed the stigmatization of mental illness in a passage from the book.
"One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder," she wrote. "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."
2. Be about that action.
Fisher pursued her dreams despite her hardships, and in a 2013 interview with The Herald Tribune, she offered some advice to those with mental issues who may be scared to pursue their dreams because of their illness. "Stay afraid, but do it anyway," she said. "What's important is the action. You don't have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow."
3. Find the humor in life.
If my life wasn't funny it would just be true and that is unacceptable.— Carrie Fisher (@carrieffisher) February 17, 2011
In her later years, Fisher brought her uncanny wit and honesty to social media, thrilling followers with her often hilarious and always on point thoughts. In one memorable tweet from 2011, Fisher gave some sage advice on the importance of finding humor in her own life and prioritizing emotions over facts: "If my life wasn't funny it would just be true and that is unacceptable."
4. Find someone who understands you.
One of Fisher's closest companions was her French Bulldog, Gary, who traveled with her and even joined her in the studio for interviews. Fisher also had him certified as a therapy dog so he could fly with her, she told NPR's Terry Gross during a recent interview. Gary even had his own Twitter account and whoever operates the account sent out a touching farewell on the dog's behalf.
Following the news of Fisher's passing, comedian and writer Jake Fogelnest shared a memory of Fisher from 1997. Fogelnest was invited to meet Fisher at a New York City hotel at 1:30 a.m. and, when he asked her what brought her to New York, Fisher's assistant explained that they had held Steven Spielberg to his promise of a free flight which dated back to 1978.
6. Tell your own story, before someone else gets it wrong.
As a writer, Fisher relied on her own experiences to craft her confessional novels and memoirs. In her last decades she became known for the struggles she endured and persevered through but she managed to turn these experiences into a career of their own. As she said during an interview with CBC in earlier this year, "If those issues are going to be public, I would rather them to be public the way I've experienced them rather than someone else assuming things about me. It's freeing to do it. Shame is not something I aspire to."
7. Trust your instincts.
Toward the end of a career-spanning November interview with Rolling Stone, Carrie was asked a simple question: Are you happier now than you've ever been? Fisher responded, "Yep. Well, I'm not happy about being older, except what are the options? But I've learned a lot," she said. "I trust myself. I trust my instincts. I know what I'm gonna do, what I can do, what I can't do. I've been through a lot, and I could go through more, but I hope I don't have to."
8. You're always with yourself, so you might as well enjoy the company.
For the final question in the same Rolling Stone interview, Fisher was asked whether she feared death. "No," she answered, "I fear dying. I've been there for a couple of people when they were dying; it didn't look like fun." And then, trusting her sense of self again, she offered, "But if I was gonna do it, I'd want someone like me around. And I will be there!"
In Wishful Drinking, Fisher remembered an incident during the filming of Star Wars where George Lucas told her she couldn't wear a bra under the white dress she wore as Princess Leia. When she asked why, Fisher said that Lucas replied, “Because… there’s no underwear in space.” He then explained that the conditions in space would lead someone to be strangled by their own bra if they were wearing one.
Fisher wrote of the incident: "Now I think that this would make for a fantastic obituary — so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by own bra.”