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Review: Wishful Drinking

Carrie on films — and drink and depression

    Carrie Fisher: the star whose wars were against fame and the bottle
    Carrie Fisher: the star whose wars were against fame and the bottle

    By Carrie Fisher
    Simon & Schuster, £12.99

    It was George Lucas who ruined Carrie Fisher’s life. At least, that’s what she says. He did it 31 years ago, when Fisher was only 19, by casting her in a film he was directing. The film was Star Wars and the part was Princess Leia.

    By starring in what is one of the most successful movies of all time, Fisher became rich, famous and an icon of popular culture. So why is she so down on Lucas? Because, in her view, Star Wars made her an object of adolescent male fantasy, turned her into a source of tacky, Leia-based merchandise, and saddled her with the shame of one of the most ridiculous hairstyles ever seen on screen. Most of all, being Princess Leia made her a “fictional character” in her own life.

    Clearly, blasting star troopers and destroying Death Stars took its toll. Fisher spent the next three decades battling manic depression and drug and alcohol addiction, finally resorting to electroconvulsive therapy to blast away her own semi-suicidal urges.

    Wishful Drinking, based on her autobiographical stage show, is an attempt to recover some of the memories wiped by the ECT and to make some sense of her life as a Hollywood casualty. It is also the kind of celebrity therapy memoir given a very bad name by D-listers like Geri Halliwell, Jade Goody and Kelly Osbourne.

    But Fisher has two things going for her that make this sensibly brief book one of the less tedious examples of the genre. One, she’s funny. She says she is “certainly not asking anyone to feel bad” for her, avoiding the tragic martyr mode by deploying a dry, self-deprecating humour. She describes the symptoms of manic depression thus: “Sexual promiscuity, excessive spending, and substance abuse — and that just sounds like a fantastic weekend in Vegas to me!” And on hearing that her case has been written up in the Abnormal Psychology journal, she observes: “Who says you can’t have it all?”

    Her other advantage is that when it comes to names to drop, she has some really big ones. Whose pot did she get high on? Harrison Ford’s. Who counselled her on experimenting with LSD? Cary Grant. Who did she date, marry, divorce and then date again? Paul Simon — the “magic person” who was “from the same tribe”, who wrote “beautiful” songs about her and who ultimately told her that, if she happened to be killed in a plane crash, maybe he wouldn’t feel that bad.

    And her parents — Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher — were “America’s Sweethearts” of the 1950s. Carrie was four years old when her handsome, Jewish crooner father ran off to marry Elizabeth Taylor. Her movie-star mother made up for his absence by introducing her to marijuana when she was 13 and to a series of unsuitable stepfathers. “I am truly a product of Hollywood. You might say that I’m a product of Hollywood inbreeding,” says Fisher. “When two celebrities mate, something like me is the result.”

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