Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher’s relationship is a story so Hollywood, it’s no wonder it became the basis for a starry, Oscar-nominated film. Reynolds was one of the most acclaimed actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood, while her daughter Fisher created one of the most iconic female heroines in cinematic history. Their relationship was tumultuous and complicated, but their love for each other never waned.
Reynolds was the darling of Hollywood in the 1950s, with the classic musical Singin’ in the Rain becoming not only her defining role but one of the defining films of the era. Though she continued to be a working actress up until her passing at the age of 84, the leading lady roles rapidly declined once she hit 40.
Her daughter Fisher grew up in her shadow – and the difficulties didn’t end there. When she was just two years old, her father Eddie Fisher notoriously left her mother for Elizabeth Taylor. Fisher later became dependent on illicit substances and alcohol at a young age and, in her 20s, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
The two strong-willed women often did not get along. However, they eventually put aside their differences. Fisher passed two days after Christmas in 2016. Then, like a Hollywood movie with an unbelievable ending, Reynolds passed the next day. Here’s a look inside their relationship.
Fisher Felt Like She Never Had Private Time With Reynolds Due To Her Fame
Photo: Singin’ in the Rain / MGM
Reynolds was a huge movie star during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It was not easy for Fisher to grow up being raised by a celebrity. The actress felt like the fans owned a piece of her mother. When the two were out together, the actress’s many admirers constantly approached her. Fisher did not like having to share her mom with the public.
Fisher wrote in her 2016 memoir The Princess Diarist, “When we went out, people sort of walked over me to get to her, and no, I didn’t like it.”
Ironically enough, Fisher admits to doing the same thing. “There’s a line in Postcards from the Edge where Meryl Streep says to my mother, ‘We’re designed more for public than for private.’ I’ve finally turned into my mother.”
Although The Two Had A Close Bond, They Once Went 10 Years Without Speaking
In her early teens, Fisher fell into the Los Angeles drug scene. She began to self-medicate with a plethora of different substances, including weed, coke, and painkillers. In her late 20s, Fisher checked into a treatment facility and also began electroconvulsive therapy for her bipolar disorder. She decided to cut off communication with her mother for almost an entire decade.
“We had a fairly volatile relationship earlier on in my 20s,” Fisher said. “I didn’t want to be around her. I did not want to be Debbie Reynolds’s daughter.”
For Reynolds – who was going through her own share of personal troubles during this time, namely that her second husband had gambled away most of her money – the estrangement was a tough pill to swallow:
It’s very hard when your child doesn’t want to talk to you and you want to talk to them, and you want to touch them, you want to hold them. It was a total estrangement. She didn’t talk to me for probably 10 years. So that was the most difficult time of all. Very painful, very heartbreaking.
Fisher did eventually figure out how to make amends with her mother. “It took like 30 years for Carrie to be really happy with me,” Reynolds said. “I don’t know what the problem ever was. I’ve had to work at it. I’ve always been a good mother, but I’ve always been in show business, and I’ve been on stage and I don’t bake cookies and I don’t stay home.”
Fisher Joked That Her Many Issues Were A Result Of Her Parents’ Star Status
Fisher has been vocal about her issues with alcohol and controlled substances, as well as her struggle with bipolar disorder. Her creative written work not only delves into these personal issues, but also how those issues may have come about because of her atypical upbringing.
After Fisher’s father left her mother for Elizabeth Taylor just two years after her birth, her family’s entire life became tabloid fodder. Fisher even joked that she was “truly a product of Hollywood’s in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”
Fisher was honest about her painful personal life and approached it with a sense of humor as acerbic as it was hilarious. She wrote about the perceived atmosphere surrounding her birth in the 2008 autobiography Wishful Drinking:
Now, my mother is a beautiful woman – she’s beautiful today in her 70s, so at 24 she looked like a Christmas morning. All the doctors [in the delivery room] were buzzing round her pretty head, saying: “Oh, look at Debbie Reynolds asleep – how pretty.”
And my father, upon seeing me start to arrive, fainted. So all the nurses ran over saying: “Oh look, there’s Eddie Fisher, the crooner, on the ground. Let’s go look at him.”
So when I arrived I was virtually unattended. And I have been trying to make up for that fact ever since.
Fisher And Her Brother Had Almost No Free Time With Their Mom Growing Up
Photo: Susan Slept Here / RKO Radio Pictures
Fisher was born in 1956. Yet there’s hardly any gap in Reynolds’s filmography in the 1950s and ’60s. She was a prolific, hard-working actress despite having two small children waiting for her at home.
Her children cherished whatever time they had with their mother, even if it was just watching her sleep. Fisher wrote in her 2008 memoir Wishful Drinking about how she and her brother Todd Fisher often spent their childhood weekends:
When my mother was at home at weekends, we stayed with her as much as possible, which frequently meant we watched her dress and make herself up. When Mom was at home, she did a lot of sleeping because she worked so hard, so Todd and I wanted as much of her company as we could get. I slept on the rug on the floor next to her bed, and my brother slept on the couch near the window. In the morning when Todd and I got up, we would creep out of her room so we wouldn’t wake her.
According To Reynolds’s Son, Fisher Was Jealous Of His Relationship With Their Mother
Instead of trying to become a Hollywood actor, Todd Fisher (Carrie’s brother) opted to get into the more technical side of show business. He became a writer, director, and sound engineer. Perhaps that helped him avoid the kind of rocky relationship with his mother that Carrie had. Todd said that while mother and daughter shared an incredible bond, their relationship was sometimes so rocky that they would go extended periods without communicating at all.
Todd thinks the fact that his relationship with his mother was consistently loving – instead of tumultuous – made his sister feel jealous and insecure:
Carrie perceived me as a bit of threat because Debbie and I had a quiet, peaceful, unspoken love that did not require constant attention. Carrie was more insecure about her relationship. I didn’t mind being Debbie Reynolds’s son, but Carrie was always trying to get out from under Debbie Reynolds’s shadow.
Fisher Said That Her Mother’s Fading Celebrity Initially Turned Her Off Show Business
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Fisher said that being the daughter of someone so famous in show business nearly deterred her from getting into the industry. Reynolds was a huge Hollywood star and personality. Her career started when she was just a teenager, and by the time she appeared in Singin’ in the Rain in 1952, she was one of the most famous actresses in Tinseltown.
Then Reynolds turned 40, and the major Hollywood roles dried up. The stage and screen icon never stopped being a working actress, but she was no longer the A-list star of her youth. Fisher said that watching her mother lose her fame was difficult. “The scary thing about it is watching celebrity fade,” Fisher said. “You’re part of their audience.”
Fisher Says Her Mother Taught Her How To ‘Sur-thrive’
In 2010, Reynolds and Fisher sat down together for an interview with The New York Times. Between the volatile, showbiz-heavy banter between mother and daughter, as well as their openness about their rocky relationship, what becomes clear is the love they share underneath it all.
Fisher credits her mother with helping her get through the rough times:
If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That’s my word for it. She would go through these amazingly difficult things, and the message was clear: Doing the impossible is possible. It’s just not fun. She broke her ankle one night during a performance and went back onstage and sang “Tammy” with her foot in a bucket of ice. She should be put on that thing with the four presidents – Mount Rushmore. Right after Teddy Roosevelt, but have his eyes looking down at her cleavage.
Fisher And Reynolds Lived Next Door To Each Other
The mother and daughter certainly had their share of ups and downs, both in public and in private. Yet, Fisher and Reynolds’s relationship survived every bump in the road.
When Reynolds was in her 70s and Fisher in her 50s, the pair were close emotionally as well as geographically. In fact, they were next-door neighbors. Their separate residences even shared a driveway – or as Fisher put it in the documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, “Mother and I live next door to each other, separated by one daunting hill.”
Fisher Praised Reynolds For Being Alive When Many Her Age Were ‘Getting Ready Not To Be’
Photo: Will & Grace / NBC
True to form for the relationship between Reynolds and Fisher, there are a lot of emotional ups and downs during their shared 2011 interview with Oprah, as the two discuss their complicated relationship in raw detail. Toward the end of the sit-down, the two Hollywood legends offer praise to one another.
Reynolds was approaching her 80th birthday at the time of the interview. Despite her age, she was not idly sitting on the sidelines of life; Fisher appreciated her mother’s tenacity: “She’s alive, at a time in her life when a lot of people are getting ready not to be. My mother is bigger than ever.”
Reynolds Expressed Worry About Who Would Take Care Of Fisher Once She Was Gone
At the end of the 2011 Oprah interview, both Reynolds and Fisher had kind things to say about each other. There were certainly times growing up that Fisher felt abandoned by her hard-working showbiz mother. However, Reynolds appreciated her daughter’s struggle and was there to help and protect her. She did, however, wonder who would look after Fisher after she was gone.
I would say that Carrie and I have finally found happiness. I admire her strength in survival. I admire that she is alive, that she has chosen to make it. It would have been easy to give up, and to give in, and to keep [using controlled substances]. I always feel as a mother does, that I protect her. Who will do that when I’m gone? I want happiness for my daughter. I want Carrie to be happy, and I can’t have that. So that makes me sad.
Reynolds’s Son Claims She Willed Herself To Pass The Day After Fisher’s Demise
Fisher passed on December 27, 2016, at the age of 60. Just one day later, Reynolds followed suit at the age of 84. Was the proximity of the events sheer coincidence – some wild cosmic occurrence? Todd, for one, doesn’t believe so.
According to his 2018 book, My Girls: A Lifetime With Carrie and Debbie, he thinks his mother somehow “willed herself” to expire. Todd wrote that right before his mother passed, she said, “I want to be with Carrie.”
The common theory about Mom’s passing was that, after losing Carrie, Debbie Reynolds died of a broken heart. Take it from the son who was there, who knew her better than anyone else on earth – that’s simply not true. Debbie Reynolds willed herself right off this planet to personally see to it that Carrie would never be alone.
Fisher’s Daughter Said She Feels Pressure To Uphold Her Family’s Legacy
Photo: Star Wars: The Force Awakens / Walt Disney Studios
Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd has appeared in the small role of Lieutenant Connix in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, including acting alongside her mother in 2015’s The Force Awakens. The rising actress has also starred on prominent TV series American Horror Story and Scream Queens, as well as the acclaimed high school comedy Booksmart. Despite the success she’s already achieved, Lourd does feel the weight of her family legacy.
About eight months after her mother and grandmother passed, Lourd – who was 25 years old at the time – talked about being her own person:
I’ve always kind of lived in their shadows, and now is the first time in my life when I get to own my life and stand on my own. I love being my mother’s daughter, and it’s something I always will be, but now I get to be just Billie.
Even still, Lourd says that being the daughter of Fisher naturally comes with a lot of added weight: “She had such an incredible legacy and now I have to uphold that and make it evolve in my own way.”
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