What Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds' Deaths Mean For Hollywood

.Photo: John Salangsang/BFAnyc.com/REX/Shutterstock.
Pictured: Reynolds and Fisher in 2015.
Carrie Fisher was born with material. As the only daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, the late actress and writer boasted a rare Hollywood pedigree that she loved to make light of, even if her anecdotes had a dark undercurrent. Her dad ran off with Elizabeth Taylor in a divorce scandal that rivaled Brangelina. Cary Grant was enlisted to lecture her about dropping acid. Even her America's Sweetheart mother, Fisher would later claim, once offered to smoke pot with her 13-year-old daughter. Fisher declined, then later absconded with the weed and had her first dalliance with drugs on her lonesome.

It was a complicated history of movie stars and film sets and pharmaceuticals. Though her wicked sense of humor always felt ahead of its time, Fisher's background was steeped in Old Hollywood, an experience very few — maybe Michael Douglas, Isabella Rossellini, and a handful of others — can claim.

As heart-wrenching as this week's news has been, it's perhaps fitting, some sort of cosmic calibration, that Fisher and Reynolds left this world at virtually the same time. Each woman was splendid on her own, and you could appreciate them individually. Together, however, to borrow a term from a certain film franchise, they were a force.

Fisher and Reynolds represented not only the most complex of mother-daughter relationships, as witnessed in Postcards From the Edge — they embodied a generational shift that spans more than 60 years of Hollywood magic, pop culture, and human attitudes. Consider the wholesome mother famed for singing and dancing with Gene Kelly, palling around with Liz Taylor and Ava Gardner, and treading the boards in Vegas. Her daughter comes of age on the fumes of Woodstock and emerges, at 19, as the female star of one of the biggest films of all time. She marries, then divorces, Paul Simon, reinvents the funny best friend trope, and unleashes her acerbic wit on the world. Such different paths, but such remarkable similarity in the ability to absolutely own one's moment.

Take out the movie stars and you have a story that many women will find familiar. Within Hollywood, however, this mother-daughter act was one of a kind. While their deaths this week make it easy to feel like a Hollywood dynasty has crumbled, there is a new chapter, a new generation, a new hope, if you will. Because of course the star of Singin' in the Rain would give birth to the star of Star Wars, who would then go on to give birth to the star of a Ryan Murphy show. It's like a perfect little pop culture time scale.

At 24, Scream Queens actress Billie Lourd has already proved she's inherited the family acting chops. What she does with her mother and grandmother's legacy is for her to decide, and right now it must feel like as much of a burden as a gift. Before her death, Fisher hinted that Lourd, her only child, had an interest in being a comedian. Like her mother, the young woman was born with material. We'd love to hear it.

Advertisement