For a while it looked as if there was hope. Hospitalised after suffering a heart attack on a flight from the UK to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, actress and writer Carrie Fisher was described as in a critical but stable condition. Sadly, having made it through Christmas, Fisher died yesterday. She was 60, and the tragic news was confirmed by her daughter, Billie Lourd.
"It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother Carrie Fisher passed away at 8.55 this morning," Lourd's publicist said in the official announcement. "She was loved by the world and she will be missed profoundly. Our entire family thanks you for your thoughts and prayers."
Fisher was born in 1956, the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. A bookish child, she nevertheless began following in her mother's footsteps early, appearing in the Reynolds starring Broadway revival of the musical Irene in 1973, when she was just 15. Her film debut came two years later in Hal Ashby's Shampoo (1975), alongside Goldie Hawn, Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.
Having never graduated high school due to work commitments, Fisher had intended to return to her studies, accepting a place at the prestigious Sarah Lawrence College, to begin in 1978. But then Star Wars (1977) happened. Cast as Princess Leia Organa in George Lucas' world conquering science fiction, she became indelibly identified with the role of the feisty rebel eventually responsible for the downfall of the evil Galactic Empire. She played Leia twice more in the original saga, through Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Star Wars: Episode VI - Return Of The Jedi (1983). And she returned last year as the older, wiser and higher ranking General Leia in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).
She told the Daily Mail in 2011 that when she got the part in a "little science fiction film", she just thought of it as a bit of fun. "But then Star Wars, this goofy, little three-month hang-out with robots did something unexpected," she said. "It exploded across the firmament of pop culture, taking all of us along with it. It tricked me into becoming a star all on my own."
But there was far more to her than Leia. On film she appeared in The Blues Brothers (1980), Hannah And Her Sisters (1986), The 'Burbs (1989) and When Harry Met Sally (1989). There was also further Broadway work. And she wrote too. Her first novel (a thinly veiled fictonalised autobiography) Postcards From The Edge was published in 1987, and she adapted the screenplay herself for Mike Nichols' 1990 film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. She followed that book with the novels Surrender The Pink (1990), Delusions Of Grandma (1993) and The Best Awful There Is (2004). Her non-fiction included the memoirs Wishful Drinking (which she adapted as a one woman play), Shockaholic (2011) and the recently published The Princess Diarist.
Her colourful personal life saw her romantically attached at one time or another to Paul Simon, Dan Aykroyd, talent agent Bryan Lourd and, as she revealed in The Princess Diarist, Harrison Ford. Her battles with alcoholism, substance abuse and bipolar disorder were well-documented – not least by Fisher herself – and there were "wilderness years" when she seemed absent from the public eye. But even during those times she was marking out a new career as one of Hollywood's most successful script doctors, contributing uncredited work to the likes of – among many others – Steven Spielberg's Hook (1991) and George Lucas' Star Wars prequels and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
In recent years she had been more visible again, appearing on TV in Weeds, Entourage, The Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock, and the British Catastrophe. Following her return to the Star Wars family in The Force Awakens, we will see her now final appearance as Leia next Christmas – her scenes for Star Wars: Episode VIII were completed.
Tributes have been pouring in, with Star Wars co-star Harrison Ford described Fisher as "one-of-a-kind" who lived her life "bravely".
Series creator George Lucas paid tribute to the star actress:
"Carrie and I have been friends most of our adult lives. She was extremely smart; a talented actress, writer and comedienne with a very colorful personality that everyone loved.
"In Star Wars she was our great and powerful princess - feisty, wise and full of hope in a role that was more difficult than most people might think. My heart and prayers are with Billie, Debbie and all Carrie's family, friends and fans. She will be missed by all. George Lucas."
Veteran film director Steven Spielberg knew Carrie Fisher socially, mostly thanks to their mutual friendship with George Lucas.
"I have always stood in awe of Carrie. Her observations always made me laugh and gasp at the same time. She didn't need The Force. She was a force of nature, of loyalty and of friendship. I will miss her very much".
English actress Daisy Ridley, who played Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, says she was "devastated at this monumental loss".
Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams paid tribute to Fisher in a handwritten note posted on Twitter.
Mark Hamill simply tweeted: "No words #devastated".
Our thoughts are with her friends and family.