Last year saw the passing of too many beloved individuals. And in that vicious years dying breath it took two that hit especially hard: Carrie Fisher, and a day later, her mother Debbie Reynolds. On Saturday, March 25 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, friends and family gathered to celebrate and pay tribute to these now lost Hollywood legends.
It began with a military Color Guard, in recognition of Reynolds’ extensive work overseas in USO Shows. Then, Todd Fisher, Debbie’s surviving son and Carrie’s brother, greeted the crowd and commented:
“… This is a show. Mom hated memorials.”
And indeed it was. Between collages, old interviews, songs, dances, speeches, the event was a sight to behold. Videos and speakers often switching tone just slightly based on who they were speaking of, but always remembering both ladies with fondness and gentility.
A video begins: showing Carrie Fisher’s birth certificate (with DOB referencing the Battle of Yavin) before small snippets of personal home movies of Fisher growing up. She’s a toddler, a smiling child, a free-spirited teen, occasionally being watched by her mother, already a legend of the silver screen. Before we know she’s making her debut as Princess Leia, fighting stormtroopers on the Death Star. Then we move through the ups and downs of her varied career: The Blues Brothers, When Harry Met Sally, Postcards From The Edge, ending on a tragic embrace with Han Solo in The Force Awakens. As the video fades to black, small moving lights appear on the stage. The house lights come up: it’s R2-D2, roaming around, looking to the screen, and offering a sad whir of mechanical chirps because Leia is gone. But then Todd Fisher steps out, calls the droid over to him, kneels down and hugs the weary R2 unit.
Though Hollywood legends they both were, Reynolds and Fisher are to be remembered beyond their contributions to Film. Ruta Lee spoke on founding The Thalians charitable organization, currently focusing on the mental health and PTSD of returning veterans. Similarly, Fisher was recognized for her work in raising awareness of mental health. Suffering from Bipolar disorder most of her life, Fisher was an outspoken advocate for awareness and normalization of the condition.
Mention was also made of Debbie Reynolds work in the preservation of Hollywood memorabilia: costumes, props, and other items. Many of which Reynolds herself amassed as part of a large collection and has auctioned off several times over the years, all the while attempting to open a museum.
But perhaps Reynolds most enduring contribution could become the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio in Los Angeles. The event showcased various performances from students in various styles, all upbeat and joyous. Appropriate for a cabaret performer like her.
Of Carrie Fisher, we were reminded of the levity she brought to the world and the strength with which she walked through life. Ben Mankiewicz even said:
“I’m almost glad I didn’t meet Carrie. She had a strong sense for bullsh!t, and I feared she would just see right through me.”
Yet whereas the presentations and speeches about Debbie Reynolds were happy, inspiring, and reverential, those speaking of Carrie Fisher were fun, insightful, and irreverent. Very fitting for the two of them. Several short segments were featured of Reynolds’ final moments in front of a camera, one in which she relates her time performing for soldiers overseas. She remembers one young man in particular who reached out and called for her to “take him home.” She wished she could, “I wanted to take them all home,” Reynolds says while fighting to hold back tears.
In the end, as I left the Liberty Hall auditorium, I realized something important: we had not gathered to mourn the passing of these incredible people. We should not cry that they are gone, and lament that we are forevermore without them. No, we should instead celebrate and cry tears of joy that they were ever here to begin with at all.
You can honor Debbie Reynolds memory by donating to The Thalians. And you can honor Carrie Fisher by continuing the Resistance.