We have such strange relationships with celebrities, don’t we? Of course, they are people we don’t really know, but somehow we personalize them for our own consumption, projecting onto them qualities and characteristics which they may—or may not—possess. And when celebrities endure for decades, these one-way relationships can last longer than relationships we have with real people in our lives.
My own fascination with the movie stars started so long ago, I don’t remember a time when they didn’t play a part in how I interpreted the world around me. From the age of four, I was the only child in the house and, as such, learned to play by myself—with movie stars. Sometimes I would get the Wahoo board and play (all four sides) with my movie star friends—Annette Funicello, Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds. (I suspect the last two would never agree to that billing order.) A psychiatrist might be able to delve into why I had selected these particular three, and a professional conclusion might lend clues to my psyche. All I know is that I saw their movies and I loved them. I still do.
Considering my love for the movies, you might be surprised to find out that I have never been a big Star Wars fan. Star Trek either, for that matter. I did see Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back when they first were released—but that was more about sitting in the dark for two hours with a nerdy hot guy. So, I didn’t get the Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia thing, although I understand that she is a childhood icon to so many (younger than myself) just as her mother was to me.
I really didn’t pay much attention to Miss Fisher until Postcards from the Edge. And, in a strange way, her brutal honesty about herself and her experiences was the opposite of usual celebrity. It was virtually impossible to project characteristics onto Carrie to fill out the details: Carrie told you who she was, what she had done, and what she was doing. She talked of the difficulty in carving out her own space and creating her own identity when she was the daughter of a movie star mother and, well, Eddie Fisher. But she did it—she occupied her own personal rung. Her humor was wicked and acerbic, but never mean…which is really hard to do, don’t you think?
Years ago, I chatted briefly with Carrie Fisher at a fundraiser in Hollywood. Now, I have to admit that particular event is still pretty high on my personal list of “Things I Never Thought Would Happen to a Gay Boy from Tyler.” I went outside for a cigarette and there, sitting on the curb, was Carrie Fisher waiting for her ride. Resisting the temptation to be starstruck, I engaged with her in some small talk (so small I don’t even remember it), the car came, and she was gone. I’m really glad that happened.
Much is being said about how so many talented, well-loved and truly iconic people have been lost this year. It has gotten so bad my heart goes in my throat when I see a celebrity name trending on Facebook. But we, the public, have not lost them. True, we won’t get the music or the movies or the books that they would have given us had they lived. But all that they did that made us love them in the first place is still here.
As everyone knows, Debbie and Carrie died this week, and I just can’t find the funny tonight. I can’t find anything but the sad right now. But we’re all thankful that they—and the many others who left us this year—could find the funny, could make us dance, could make us laugh. And sometimes they could make us cry. Like they’re doing now.