Once, when a Star Wars fan called Princess Leia actress Carrie Fisher her role model, Fisher replied, “I’m so sorry.” Despite her fame and literary accomplishments, Fisher remained plain-spoken and self-effacing—she considered herself a terrible actress (citing her unstable British accent throughout the original Star Wars trilogy) and told her young daughter that her family’s history of mental illness and substance abuse provided all the material she’d need to become a professional comedian.
While Fisher never took herself too seriously, her celebrity status had a serious impact on LGBTQ people, even if just as an intersectional by-product of her activist work. We researched five ways her work positively affected LGBTQ lives to commemorate her legacy in light of her recent passing.
1. She was an enduring mental health advocate.
Fisher first came out about her manic depression in a 1995 ABC News interview with Diane Sawyer, the pre-social media equivalent of publicly posting it on her Facebook wall. During the interview, Fisher unabashedly spoke about self-medicating with cocaine and prescription drugs. And though we hear more about mental illness from celebrities and everyday people these days, Fisher was one of the the first to speak openly about her own struggles.
She continued discussing her mental illness and substance abuse issues for the rest of her days. She talked about her drug use in a 2001 Psychology Today article, appeared in gay activist Stephen Fry’s 2006 TV documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive and shared her experiences with electroconvulsive therapy in a 2008 episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
Fisher also had a French Bulldog therapy animal named Gary that she regularly brought to interviews and public appearances as a way of highlighting her continuing mental health struggles. All these actions helped forge her legacy as a pioneer and advocate for mental health awareness, something that’s especially important considering that LGBTQ people suffer from mental illnesses three times more often than the general population.
2. She spoke out against Hollywood’s unfair female body standards.
Among the aforementioned mental illnesses troubling the LGBTQ community, there’s increased rates of body dysmorphia and eating disorders. While these issues stem from a variety of sources, mainstream media’s peddling of unrealistic body standards plays a significant role.
During the promotional junket for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Fisher herself became an outspoken critic of the exploitation she felt while filming Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. A 26-year-old actress forced to wear an iconic gold bikini as Jabba the giant testicle’s sex slave, she famously hated the outfit despite its popularity among hetero fanboys. Fisher later advised the female lead of The Force Awakens to fight for her outfit, saying, “Don’t be a slave like I was.”
When fanboys later criticized the 59-year-old actress for not having Princess Leia’s slim figure in The Force Awakens, she clapped back in a Tweet-storm saying:
“Please stop debating about whether OR not￼ I aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all 3 of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.
“Men don’t age better than women, they’re just allowed to age.
“Youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they’re the temporary happy bi-products of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.”
The truth is that the actress was pressured to lose 35 pounds for her role in The Force Awakens. She said, “They didn’t hire me, they hired me minus 35 pounds… I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up.”
3. She was a devoted AIDS activist.
Fisher’s semi-autobiographical 1993 novel, Delusions of Grandma, fictionalizes the real-life 1985 death of her friend Julian. When he came to visit Fisher at her home, AIDS had rendered him incontinent, unable to walk or operate without wheelchair and nurse assistance. Despite widespread public fear and ignorance about AIDS and its causes, Fisher let Julian live with her for two months until his eventual death.
In a 1998 interview with A&U magazine, she said:
“I would get him manicures and pedicures and he would come outside in his underwear with the catheter. And he was beautiful. He was beautiful. People were freaked out, but this was something I learned from my mother, too. You take care of your own.”
Ten years later, Fisher shared a similar experience with another friend named Michael and an over-the-phone friend named David Feinberg. Feinberg was a gay author of several AIDS-themed novels. His dying wish was to lunch with Fisher, but the two couldn’t arrange a meeting before his death.
In Delusions of Grandma, Fisher references her relationship with AIDS activist Elizabeth Taylor, a woman she sometimes referred to as her adoptive mother. During the ‘80s and ‘90s, Fisher worked directly with AIDS Project Los Angeles, donated money to various AIDS organizations and co-hosted a fundraiser for amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, one of Taylor’s favorite charities.
4. She loved her gay fans (for better or worse).
From the time she started performing alongside the gay backup dancers in her mother Debbie Reynold’s stage show, Fisher spent her life loving and being loved by gay men. “I got my first kiss from a gay man,” she once told The Advocate, “And second. And third.”
During the 1990s, Fisher had a three-year relationship (and a daughter) with a closeted man, talent agent Bryan Lourd. Lourd eventually left Fisher to be with a man and it devastated her, leaving her wondering if she had somehow driven him to it. Nevertheless, they co-parented her daughter and remained in constant contact, even spending family vacations together.
Bryan Lourd+ Carrie Fisher were such a cute couple ?? pic.twitter.com/SippX74UqN
— RIP CARRIE FISHER (@carries_soulma8) December 20, 2016
During Broadway performances of her 2008 one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, Fisher would regularly invite gay male audience members to come onstage and play with a life-size Princess Leia doll. She said, “I think gay guys feel a little more comfortable with me…. gay people are a little more open to doing weird things.” However, she said that she rarely bonded with gay men over Star Wars, feeling that they appreciated her more for her appearance in the Wizard of Oz-inspired 1981 comedy Under the Rainbow and her role as a house mother in gay director Stewart Hendler’s campy 2009 horror flick Sorority Row.
For a while, Fisher claimed to be haunted by the ghost of R. Gregory Stevens, a friend of hers who worked as a gay Republican political operative in Washington D.C.. Stevens died of a drug overdose in Fisher’s bed in 2005 and Fisher partially blamed conservative pressure to remain closeted as a contributing factor. “When he came out to visit me,” she said, “the relief was that he didn’t have to pretend as much.” Stevens’ ghost would reportedly press buttons on a crude electronic toy that uttered phrases like, “Fuck you,” “Eat shit” and “You’re an asshole”—Fisher found it amusing despite its supernatural occurrence.
In a 2010 interview, Fisher infamously outed actor John Travolta after Travolta’s lawyers sent “a stern letter” to Gawker.com for re-publishing stories of the actor trading blowjobs in L.A. saunas. When asked about the letter, Fisher said, “I mean, my feeling about John has always been that we know and we don’t care. Look, I’m sorry that he’s uncomfortable with it, and that’s all I can say. It only draws more attention to it when you make that kind of legal fuss. Just leave it be.”
We’re not sure that Travolta appreciated Fisher’s acceptance of his alleged homosexuality, but we certainly did.
5. She once kissed a female fan.
During a Q&A session at the 2011 Dragon-Con, one of the country’s biggest sci-fi conventions, a doting female fan asked if she could please have Fisher’s name card in front of her microphone on the panel table. Fisher agreed and invited the fan to come and take it. Before the fan departed, Fisher gave the fan a kiss on the lips, quipping, “Just in time for same-sex marriage!” immediately after. A CNN caption of Fisher puckering up asked, “How jealous were all the men in Carrie Fisher’s panel when she leaned over and smooched a female fan?”
But while we highlight this sweet gesture as a way to illustrate Fisher’s unpretentious attitude, it’s also worth mentioning that many of her fans found their strength through her writing and activism rather than her role as Princess Leia. Fisher’s work helped inspire countless women, female sci-fi geeks and anyone struggling with addiction or mental health issues to no longer remain silent and marginalized, but instead share the spotlight. Now they had a strong woman helping lead the rebellion against the dark forces conspiring to keep them powerless, and the universe would never be the same.