Unpacking the tumultuous relationship between Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher

2016-12-29 09:37
debbie reynolds, carrie fisher

Los Angeles — Debbie Reynolds embodied the sunshine of postwar America on the screen as she matched steps with Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain.

Carrie Fisher brought the sarcasm and cynicism of the Baby Boomers to her movies, books and stage shows, even when she was playing a princess in Star Wars.

The mother and daughter, separated by so many differences both personal and generational, are likely drawn closer in the public memory after their deaths on successive days.

Reynolds died on Wednesday at age 84, just as she and the rest of the world were starting to mourn her daughter Fisher, who died on Tuesday at 60, days after falling ill on a flight.

Even after a year of shocking and constant celebrity deaths, the one-two punch of Fisher and Reynolds brought a staggering finale to 2016.

Reynolds' son Todd Fisher said his sister's death was "just too much" for his mother.

"She said, 'I want to be with Carrie,'" Fisher told The Associated Press by phone from Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre, where Reynolds had just died after being rushed there earlier in the day. "And then she was gone."

No cause of death has been revealed for either woman.

How a turbulent relationship brought mother and daughter together

Both mother and daughter enjoyed the heights of show business success and endured the depths of personal troubles. Their relationship for years ranged from strained to non-existent, a theme frequently explored in Fisher's writing, but late in life they became allies and close confidantes in their struggles.

Reynolds lost one husband to Elizabeth Taylor and two other husbands plundered her for millions.

Fisher struggled from early in life with addiction and mental illness.

"There have been a few times when I thought I was going to lose Carrie," Reynolds said when Oprah Winfrey interviewed both mother and daughter in 2011. "I've had to walk through a lot of my tears. But she's worth it."

Their complicated relationship was first captured in the 1990 movie Postcards from the Edge, which was based on Fisher’s 1987 semi-autobiography with the same name. The film saw Meryl Streep portray Fisher and told the story of how a young girl returns home to her famous mother after a spending time in rehab.

Streep went on to receive an Oscar nomination for her performance.

Watch a scene of the movie here:

More recently Fisher tells the story of her relationship with her mother in the humorous HBO documentary Wishful Drinking, which is also based on a book and Broadway play. This documentary told the intoxicating true story of Fisher’s life, touching on growing up famous, her mental illness and her relationship with addiction.

Watch a trailer for the doccie here:

When it all fell apart

As Fisher tried to distance herself from Reynolds, she barely spoke to her mother for nearly a decade.

The Singing in the Rain actress said at the time, "My lowest point in Carrie and my relationship was probably when we discovered that she was ill, or that she had this mental health problem, and that it was going to be with her forever...

"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," Reynolds told Winfrey. "It was a total estrangement."

Fisher found herself resenting her famous mother and no longer wanted to be "Debbie Reynolds’ daughter."

Rebuilding a broken relationship

In the final years of their lives, Reynolds and Fisher found themselves so close that they even became neighbours.

In the same interview with Oprah, Fisher remembered how her relationship with her famous mother got better after Reynolds’ marriage Harry Karl started falling apart. Time started healing their relationship.

Reynolds took solace and strength from her renewed closeness with her daughter. She told Oprah, "I would say that Carrie and I have finally found happiness, I admire her strength and survival."

Watch the full mother/daughter interview with Oprah Winfrey here:

A final ode to the Hollywood icons

The last thing Reynolds and Fisher worked on together was a documentary which captured their rekindled relationship.

The doccie is called Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher and premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

Watch a clip from the doccie here:

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