It’s not a good time for pop music. The sudden death of singer George Michael adds his name to a list of musical superstars who will not make it to 2017: David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen.
And this morning brought the news of the passing of Carrie Fisher. She had seemed to be stable after suffering a heart stoppage on December 23 while flying from London to L.A. But her death was a final twist in a life that had already had many. Fisher, of course, was best known for playing Princess Leia in the original Star Wars films. I admit I’m not a huge fan of what George Lucas wrought, beginning in 1977. And Fisher’s bagel-haired character never held much charm for me. I was, however, taken with her presence in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where she appeared as a strong, mature, and knowing woman. Her interaction in that film with a greying Harrison Ford was particularly striking because (as all of us learned from her 2016 memoir) she had plunged into a three-month affair with the very married Ford on the set of the original Star Wars film.
The title of Fisher’s new memoir, The Princess Diarist, reveals the wit she always had in spades. In fact, I’m far more interested in Fisher the writer than in Fisher the actress. She always seemed supremely honest about her eventful time on earth: she wrote about her bipolar diagnosis and about her abuse of drugs and alcohol in a 2008 memoir, Wishful Drinking. She was also one of Hollywood’s most go-to script doctors, having polished and sharpened such hit screenplays as Sister Act and The Wedding Singer. She adapted her first novel, Postcards from the Edge, into a successful Hollywood film, starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. This story of a young actress trying to recover from drug addiction while living with her ageing screen-star mother was by all accounts a reflection of Fisher’s own tense relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds. Reynolds, of course, was once known as a winsome ingénue who lost husband Eddie Fisher to homewrecker Elizabeth Taylor. The public knew her as sweet and vulnerable, but Fisher put forth the Tiger Mom aspects of Reynolds’ personality for all the world to see.
That took chutzpah. And of course chutzpah was one of the defining characteristics of the late Zsa Zsa Gabor. The Hungarian beauty, who parlayed her looks and charm into a Hollywood career that had little to do with acting chops, was a master at playing herself. Her husbands (nine of them) far outnumbered her major dramatic roles, but television hosts loved her ability to poke fun at her own image. Sample: “I am a marvelous housekeeper: Every time I leave a man I keep his house.” And then there were the headlines she made in 1989 when she slapped a Beverly Hills traffic cop.
Back when I was a Brownie Scout, I appeared in a playlet with other troop members. Afterwards, to celebrate, our parents took us to a fancy Beverly Hills ice cream parlor, Blum’s. There in the nearly empty restaurant sat a glamorous lady holding a Pekingese pooch while spooning a sundae into her pretty mouth. We young girls, fascinated by the dog, crept over to chat, while our parents nudged each other. Yes, it was Zsa Zsa, though her name meant nothing to us youngsters. We never stopped to wonder (as our parents must have) how she dared take her dog into a restaurant. Chutzpah, Beverly Hills style! Too bad the end of her life was much less carefree.