Todd Fisher: Debbie Reynolds Is ‘Now With Carrie’

Just the other day, my colleague and I were talking about Princess Leia — Carrie Fisher — and her passing at the age of 60 following a medical emergency on board a flight from London to Los Angeles. The media and the internet were full of tributes to the iconic “Star Wars” actress, author and personality.

“There’s nothing worse than a mother outliving her daughter,” my colleague noted, referring to Fisher’s mother, legendary Hollywood movie star Debbie Reynolds.

Turns out there is something worse.

The news — scrolling below regular programming like a black wreath — that Reynolds had died of an apparent stroke Dec. 28, only a day after her daughter’s death, came as a shock, an oh-no moment in the midst of the remarkable public mourning of Fisher (even as a new “Star Wars” movie was rocketing to big box-office returns).

It amounted to a double tragedy, one breathlessly on top of the other with an unimaginable swiftness. The two deaths had the weight of both the familial relationship and the combined stature of mother and daughter as famous people, images on a screen, lives lived in the public eye, together and apart.

Difficult as it now is to separate the two stars, their lives were very different, their iconic stature due to different sensibilities and American subcultures.

“I was famous when I was born,” noted Fisher, who was almost as famous for her sharp wit as for her film roles. That she was, in the manner of the first-born of Hollywood royalty. She was the child of star crooner Eddie Fisher and Reynolds, who came from Depression beginnings to become a clean-cut, wholesome, girl-next-door Hollywood princess — democratic, not royal — the kind preferred by moviegoers of the post-World War II, small-town and suburban 1950s America.

Energetic, adorable, sweet and high-spirited, she splashed onto the screen in a big way in “Singing in the Rain,” arguably the best Hollywood movie musical ever made. Although you couldn’t tell by watching her, it wasn’t easy; she was still in her teens when she made it to Hollywood and, with very little dance experience, came to partner up with an apparently reluctant Gene Kelly.

“Singing in the Rain,” with those bright yellow raincoats, made her a star, cemented Kelly’s status as America’s premiere musical movie dancer, didn’t do badly by Donald “Be a Clown” O’Connor and got the leggy Cyd Charisse noticed. The movie made you deliriously happy and Reynolds was a big reason for that frisson.

Typecast as a good girl in roles like “Tammy and the Bachelor,” “Three Little Words,” “Two Weeks of Love” and “The Tender Trap” (teasing Frank Sinatra), she eschewed more serious parts, although much later she was nominated for an Oscar in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” a musical about the famed Titanic survivor.

Reynolds married three times — most notably the first time, to Eddie Fisher, in what seemed a clean-cut-kid-meets-teen-idol pairing. She and Fisher, who sang “Oh! My Papa” and starred with Reynolds in “Bundle of Joy,” named their first bundle of joy Carrie and a bit more than a year later had a son named Todd.

That’s when Eddie met Liz, the widow of Mike Todd and a good friend to Debbie. Eddie flipped for Liz, or they flipped for each other, and it was the biggest Hollywood scandal of their time — until Liz met Richard Burton and left Eddie and that became the biggest scandal of their time.

Reynolds starred in other comedies, had a one-year television series, made some good films, toured in “Irene” and became a fixture in Las Vegas. Among her TV roles was Grace’s acerbic mother on “Will and Grace.”

The mother and daughter, Debbie and Carrie, became close. Fisher (now we’re talking about Carrie) was an acute observer of the life of a Hollywood legend and her own as a product of Hollywood. She was a Hollywood princess before she became Princess Leia.

Reynolds belonged to one kind of world — the old studio world, where personalities and stars were molded and made. You could never make a Deborah out of Debbie; it was her claim to enduring fame. Fisher — who understood that she would be Princess Leia forever — was a very modern 20th- and 21st-century personality. Multifaceted, multitalented (a novelist, memoirist and screenwriter), sharp, smart and funny, she had her share of baggage but seemed to carry it, if not entirely lightly, then with a certain amount of self-aware bravura.

Responding to the outpouring of love and appreciation for her daughter, Reynolds posted on Facebook: “Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter. I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop.”

After Reynolds’s fatal stroke, Todd Fisher, Debbie’s son and Carrie’s brother, said that Carrie’s death had been too much for her. “She’s now with Carrie and we’re all heartbroken.” So are we all, again, even more.

Reynolds, who was 84, is survived by her son and by her daughter’s daughter, Billie Lourd.

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