When the news broke that Carrie Fisher had drugs in her system when she died, some people were quick to jump to the conclusion that this was just another tragic example of a celebrity’s life gone too soon by addiction. But the world needs more activists like Carrie Fisher. Why?
She wasn’t your typical Hollywood princess who fell from grace. She openly and powerfully spoke out about the challenges of mental illness and addiction, acting as a champion for greater awareness and understanding around these issues, with unbridled wit and irreverence.
From Hollywood Royalty to ‘Star Wars’ Princess
The daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, you might say that Carrie Fisher was born into Hollywood royalty, so it was fitting that she came into her own as the iconic Princess Leia in “Star Wars.” But what most people don’t know or understand is the mental anguish that festers deep within many silver screen stars.
For Carrie, growing up in a celebrity family meant that privacy was second place to publicity, as the spotlight for attention was always “on.” In addition to the anything-but-glamorous influences of Hollywood, the usual pressures of adolescence began to take their toll, leading Carrie down a path of substance use. She started smoking marijuana at the age of 13, and later used other substances such as cocaine and LSD, coupled with alcohol abuse.
Although she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 20s, Carrie, like most people caught up in addiction, didn’t really believe she had a problem. Only after an overdose nearly took her life did she acknowledge that she needed help. Skeptical about the treatment process, she checked herself into rehab.
Despite a few relapses, common in recovery, she eventually succeeded in maintaining sobriety to her benefit and to her fan base, because she still had a lot of living left to do.
Why Life Begins Again with Recovery
Life brings each of us its own set of compelling stories and life lessons. But for Carrie, it paved her way toward greater accomplishments.
She used her experiences in rehab, her challenges with addiction and sobriety, and her ongoing struggles with bipolar disorder, and her inside knowledge of Hollywood culture as the perfect backdrop to a second career as a writer.
Writing to Express, Heal and Advocate
Carrie drew from her natural talents as an artist, weaving words of wisdom through emotional outcries of personal truths in the seven novels and memoirs she authored, as well as two original screenplays, including:
- “Postcards from the Edge” (1987)
- “Delusions of Grandma” (1993)
- “The Best Awful There Is” (2004)
- “Surrender the Pink” (2004)
- “Wishful Drinking” (2008)
- “Shockaholic” (2011)
- “The Princess Diarist” (2016)
Throughout her career, Carrie never hesitated to write candidly about taboo topics such as addiction and mental illness, revealing her own personal struggles with bipolar disorder and substance abuse.
Sharing Personal Experiences Helps Others
Carrie’s humor and brutally honest openness gave others who were struggling with the same issues the courage to contemplate their own struggles, find their voices, speak out and seek help. She wasn’t embarrassed to admit her shortcomings, and she encouraged others to step out of the shadows, shame and negative stigma surrounding addiction and mental health disorders.
In interviews, she gave candid insights into her experiences with bipolar disorder and her addictions to prescription medication, cocaine and alcohol, as well as her use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments to overcome debilitating depression.
A Rewarding Life Leaves Something Behind
Carrie’s unwavering advocacy didn’t go unnoticed. She was honored by Harvard University in 2016 with the annually awarded Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism for her creative and empathetic activism for addiction and mental health issues. She was also an honorary board member of the International Bipolar Foundation.
When Carrie passed away on December 27, 2016 at the age of 60, people the world over mourned the loss of their princess and advocate. The cause of death was not entirely certain; Carrie suffered from heart problems as well as sleep apnea.
A coroner’s report in June stated that she had multiple drugs in her system at the time of death, including cocaine, opiates and ecstasy, though there wasn’t conclusive evidence to determine whether these substances contributed to her death.
How Carrie Fisher died is inconsequential compared to how she lived. She ultimately owned her life choices, providing a shining – sometimes blinding – example for others to follow or connect with. Carrie’s writing, acting and speaking provided perhaps her most important service to humanity.
She helped and, in a way, continues to help people in distress realize that they are not alone in the universe, and that, despite their troubles, the force is strong within them.
Addiction and Mental Health Advocacy: YOU Can Carry on Carrie’s Legacy
People with addictions and mental illnesses still face social stigma and misunderstanding. Carrie’s work helped light the fire of awareness, and now it’s our turn to carry the torch. We need more people who lead by example, owning their problems, courageously taking them on and, ultimately, overcoming them by speaking openly about their challenges.
Surely, the world needs more princesses like Carrie Fisher. But the world needs more people, like you, to embrace life like Carrie Fisher.