Carrie Fisher, true global royalty, dies at 60

The actress known for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies dies days after suffering a heart attack on an airplane.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
3 min read

Actress Carrie Fisher died Tuesday at the age of 60 after suffering a heart attack last week.

CBS Photo Archive, CBS via Getty Images

Whoever said America doesn't have princesses didn't consider Carrie Fisher, who passed away Tuesday morning at the far-too-young age of 60 after suffering a massive heart attack on Friday, according to various media reports.

Since 1977, she's been as regal a princess as any crowned British head of state could ever hope to be, and saying goodbye to her is like losing a true member of the family, royal or otherwise.

Of course, Fisher's life and career didn't begin with her role as Princess Leia in the original "Star Wars." Like real royalty, she was born to famous faces -- singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, who split when she was 2 in a scandal to rival any of the modern day. But it didn't take her long to escape the shadow of her prominent family and make her own name.

Fisher had already hit the big screen in 1975's "Shampoo" before she played Princess Leia, but it is as the strong-willed princess that she will be forever remembered. This was no mousy beauty with a crown who needed rescuing. Leia grabbed a blaster herself and shot at the Stormtroopers threatening her.

She wasn't afraid to snap back at the looming Darth Vader even when her own torture and death seemed a real possibility. Sure she fell in love -- eventually -- with dashing smuggler Han Solo, but not in a swooning, take-care-of-me way. Leia was a role model for a generation of American girls, and credit for much of that goes to Fisher, who developed and strengthened the character well past the regal title. Not for naught was she promoted to "General" Leia in 2015's "The Force Awakens."

Her personal life was as colorful as Leia's onscreen adventures. She recently disclosed an affair with the married Harrison Ford on the original Star Wars set. She married and divorced singer-songwriter Paul Simon, was engaged to actor Dan Aykroyd, had a daughter, "Scream Queens" star Billie Lourd, with CAA principal Bryan Lourd. Of her famed relationship with Simon, she told the Washington Post, "It was a relationship based on a great conversation. It probably should have stayed a conversation."

Outside of the Star Wars universe, Fisher continued to break barriers, as an actress, a best-selling author, and an always outspoken activist. She was open about her alcohol and drug addictions as well as her bipolar disorder, a mental illness she said she shared with her famous father.

In 2013, after a bizarre incident during a cruise ship performance, Fisher had to be hospitalized, but there was no sweeping it under the rug, not for a princess of Alderaan. She handled the potentially embarrassing event with that same blunt, get-out-of-the-way, I'll-rescue-myself honesty that had endeared her to millions. She spoke honestly about what it was like to be bipolar and how writing and speaking about the illness was a way of surviving it. That sort of honestly impacted many, including my CNET colleague Bonnie Burton.

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Actress Carrie Fisher reportedly died Tuesday at the age of 60 after suffering a heart attack last week.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

She was also honest about the struggles of a woman in a field where looks are often everything. Fisher's Leia-in-a-metal-bikini image from "Return of the Jedi" made her a sex symbol, but she joked that the outfit "was what supermodels will eventually wear in the seventh ring of hell."

And Fisher has spoken openly about how she was ordered to lose weight not only back in the original trilogy days, but for "The Force Awakens."

"They didn't want to hire all of me, just about three-quarters," she told Good Housekeeping in its January 2016 issue. Did a general really need to be rail-thin? Fisher's openness about the weight loss demand reminded us that she wasn't afraid to speak out against Hollywood's old standards. As when she faced down Vader, this born-in-the-blood princess had no fear.

As the original Star Wars opens, Leia is seen only as a ghostly, hooded princess asking for help. But once Fisher strides onto the set, the woman who seemed like a damsel in distress proves herself every bit as capable and as complex as any man, droid, alien or other creature in the universe -- probably more so.

This wasn't a princess we had seen in movies before; this was the woman who would blast away at Stormtroopers, snarl "Somebody has to save our skins," and command her rescuers jump into garbage. And they would. Because she was right, and her own bravery and charm made the jump go down easier.