|In the constellation of stars who died in 2016, the one that I was heartsick over the most was Carrie Fisher.
When I first saw her in “Star Wars,” the special effects and droids got more of my 12-year-old’s attention than her signature character, Leia Organa, the blaster-toting, tough-talking, take-charge princess.
By the time “The Empire Strikes Back” came out in 1980, the romantic tension between her character and Han Solo got my notice. And when “Return of the Jedi” premiered and I was 18, well, let’s just say that her appearance in that golden bikini left a lasting impression.
But as I got older, the appeal of her roles in the “Star Wars” franchise took a backseat to her plainspoken and brutally honest conversations about her struggles with mental illness and addiction.
I was horrified the first time I read about Fisher going into rehab.
The image of my beloved baby-faced star was shattered, replaced with an upsetting notion of an unstable celebrity who was following the familiar Hollywood path of drugs and booze.
Over time though, I came to appreciate — and admire — her willingness to forthrightly discuss her experiences and her treatment for bipolar disorder.
“I am mentally ill. I can say that,” Fisher said. “I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”
She was a role model for so many people, me included.
Fisher – among others — inspired me to seek help for my depression. If Carrie Fisher could tackle these issues head-on and in public, what was stopping me?
Fisher’s death also struck me forcefully because she reminded me of my late fiancée, Carla, who had battled her own addictions.
Fisher was open (some called it over-sharing) about her stints in rehab. Carla was similarly open and channeled her experiences into helping others in recovery.
Fisher was a high-profile inspiration for others. Carla was also a source of inspiration but on a grassroots level. I saw this repeatedly as she connected with people individually and offered to give them a boost.
When Carla was fired as a domestic-abuse counselor, her enraged clients broke into the office in the dead of night to find her home phone number. Carla saw it as a victory because the women felt empowered and took control.
Fisher and Carla also had an ability to poke fun at – and sometimes even celebrate – themselves at their worst moments.
Some of Carla’s stories were funny, like the time she was drunk behind the wheel and rear-ended a police car, and some were terrifying, like when she was confronted by a guy who pointed a gun at her and her friend and demanded their drug stash.
Russell Crowe recalled a moment with Fisher in 2000. On Twitter he wrote that she grabbed his butt and said “You would have loved me when I was on Xanax.”
An appreciation of Fisher that appeared in The New York Times noted there were better ways to honor her than rewatching “Star Wars.”
“Read her books,” wrote Lawrence Downes. “They are works where misery and brilliance commingle with wit, the creations of an actual person who had many layers and is worth getting to know, as opposed to Princess Leia, who has none and is not.”
I agree but I think there is an even better way to honor her memory:
Don’t judge them if they have a mental illness or are now or have been an addict.
Offer to help in what ways you can.
Carrie – and Carla — would approve.