By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Carrie Fisher, who rose to fame as Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” films and later endured drug addiction before going on to tell her story as a best-selling author, died on Tuesday aged 60, her family said.
Fisher, a mental health advocate who spoke about her own struggles with bipolar disorder and cocaine addiction, had suffered a heart attack on Friday as she flew into Los Angeles.
The daughter of actor Debbie Reynolds and the late singer Eddie Fisher had been returning from England where she was shooting the third season of the British sitcom “Catastrophe.”
“Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter,” Reynolds said on Facebook. “I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop.”
Fisher’s friend and former Star Wars’ co-star Mark Hamill, who played Leia’s brother Luke Skywalker, said in a tweet: “No words. #Devastated”
Fisher was met by paramedics and rushed to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after suffering the heart attack during the flight on Friday.
She made headlines last month when she disclosed that she had a three-month love affair with her “Star Wars” co-star Harrison Ford 40 years ago.
Fisher revealed the secret to People magazine while promoting her new memoir, “The Princess Diarist,” just before it went on sale. The book is based on Fisher’s diaries from her time working on the first “Star Wars” movie.
Harrison said in a statement Fisher was funny, emotionally fearless and one-of-a-kind. “She lived her life, bravely…We will all miss her.”
Fisher said the affair started and ended in 1976 during production on the blockbuster sci-fi adventure in which she first appeared as the intrepid Princess Leia. Ford played the maverick space pilot Han Solo.
“It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend,” Fisher told People. She was 19 and Ford was 33 at the time.
“How could you ask such a shining specimen of a man to be satisfied with the likes of me? I was so inexperienced, but I trusted something about him. He was kind,” she wrote of Ford in the memoir, the latest of several books Fisher authored.
Fisher reprised the role in two “Star Wars” sequels. She gained sex symbol status in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” when her Leia character wore a metallic gold bikini while enslaved by the diabolical Jabba the Hutt.
She returned last year in Disney’s reboot of the “Star Wars” franchise, “The Force Awakens,” appearing as the more matronly General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance movement fighting the evil First Order.
Filming was completed in July on Fisher’s next appearance as Leia in “Star Wars: Episode VIII,” which is set to reach theatres in December 2017.
Fisher’s Princess Leia makes a surprise appearance at the end of “Rogue One,” the latest blockbuster, which opened this month, in the “Star Wars” series.
Shortly after news of her death was made public, her dog Gary, who has his own Twitter account, said goodbye: “Saddest tweets to tweet. Mommy is gone. I love you @carrieffisher.”
She is survived by her mother, Reynolds, her daughter, Billie Lourd, and her brother Todd Fisher.
EARLY SHOWBIZ START
Fisher also played a memorable supporting role in the 1989 hit film “When Harry Met Sally,” as a friend of Meg Ryan’s character who falls for and marries the best pal of Billy Crystal’s character.
More recently, Fisher played the American mother-in-law on “Catastrophe.”
Born in Beverly Hills, Carrie Fisher got her showbiz start at age 12 in her mother’s Las Vegas nightclub act. She made her film debut as a teenager in the 1975 comedy “Shampoo,” two years before her “Star Wars” breakthrough.
But her life was also at times mired in drug abuse, mental illness and tumultuous romances with other entertainment figures, all of which she laid bare in her books, interviews and a one-woman stage show titled “Wishful Drinking.”
She was once engaged to comic actor Dan Aykroyd, later married, then divorced, singer-songwriter Paul Simon, and had a daughter out of wedlock with Hollywood talent agent Brian Lourd.
After undergoing treatment in the mid-1980s for cocaine addition, she wrote the bestselling novel, “Postcards from the Edge,” about a drug-abusing actress forced to move back in with her mother. She later adapted the book into a film that starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.
She told Reuters in a 2011 interview that tabloid exposure of her private life could be trying.
“‘Carrie Fisher’s tragic life.’ That was one that hurt,” she said, quoting a headline. “‘Hey, how about Carrie Fisher? She used to be so hot. Now she looks like Elton John.’ That hurt.”
She also acknowledged being briefly hospitalized in 2013 due to a bout with bipolar disorder.
However, Fisher told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview published last month she was happier than she had ever been.
“I’ve been through a lot, and I could go through more, but I hope I don’t have to,” she said. “But if I did, I’d be able to do it. I’m not going to enjoy dying but there’s not much prep for that.”
Summing up the showbiz legacy she expected to leave behind in her 2011 memoir “Shockaholic,” Fisher wrote in self-deprecating style: “What you’ll have of me after I journey to that great Death Star in the sky is an extremely accomplished daughter, a few books, and a picture of a stern-looking girl wearing some kind of metal bikini lounging on a giant drooling squid, behind a newscaster informing you of the passing of Princess Leia after a long battle with her head.”
(Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Daniel Wallis and Jill Serjeant in New York; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Diane Craft)