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Carrie Fisher’s death cuts deepest as final stamp on a brutal year

US actor Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame in Sydney to do a show at the State Theatre called Wishful Drinking… taken at the Observatory Hotel smh news photos Ben Rushton October 11 2010 SPECIAL 0000 Photo: Ben Rushton Carrie Fisher Photo: supplied
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Carrie Fisher in her iconic role as Princess Leia. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Not content with claiming the great musicians Bowie, Cohen, Prince and George Michael, nor even childhood icons such as Willie Wonka and Mrs Brady, the fading spectre of 2016 had yet another hand to play, hopefully its last.

Carrie Fisher, known to a generation of film-going children as the Princess Leia Organa, the rebel princess who took on an empire in Star Wars and won, died after being hospitalised several days ago for a heart attack.

Though 2016 will be remembered as a year in which too many people seemed to die – Garry Marshall, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali and many others can be added to that list – Fisher’s death will cut deeper than the others. What a day and a horrible year it has been. Cannot wait for Sunday.— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) December 28, 2016

It comes like a final stamp on an already brutal year.

For a combination of reasons – from the post-war baby boom to the explosion of celebrity in the last six decades – there is a prevailing perception that 2016 has claimed more than its fair share.

But to properly understand the impact Fisher’s death we have to step back, for a moment, into our collective childhoods, and look up at the flickering screen in a darkened cinema.

Fisher’s Princess Leia Organa, diminutive in stance, wearing a simple white dress and sporting a now-iconic pair of circular Danish plaits, stands head and shoulders above her other on-screen work.

There, aboard the starship Tantive IV, with a Star Destroyer (and the sinister Darth Vader) in hot pursuit, an icon was born: a superlative poster-girl to feminism, revolution and royalty all in one.

To little boys she was simply exquisite, very girlish but outspoken and full of derring do. To little girls she was a feminist ideal whose strength came not from weapons and physical force, but from an inner magnificence that could not be extinguished.

In hindsight, it was a luminous performance which catapulted her to a place among the proper deities of popular culture. What seems almost staggering now is that it was only her second role, after featuring in the 1975 romantic comedy Shampoo.

“As much as I may have joked about Star Wars over the years, I liked that I was in those films,” she would later write. “Particularly as the only girl in an all-boy fantasy. They were fun to make. It was an anecdote of unimaginable standing.”

Though she went on to star in other films – among them The Blues Brothers (1980), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), The ‘burbs (1989) and When Harry Met Sally (1989) – there was a personal brilliance to Carrie Fisher which seemed more comfortable outside the spotlight.

Her natural wit, her clarity – despite, or perhaps because of, many years of addiction and substance abuse – and the gift that comes with being a great writer, turned her into one of the most skilled observers of her generation.

Some of that was credited, such as the books Postcards from the Edge, Wishful Drinking and The Princess Diarist, but much of it was not and Fisher worked extensively behind the scenes as a script doctor, polishing imperfect Hollywood comedies into works of brilliance.

And there, perhaps, we meet the Carrie Fisher who was the best kind of role model: a silent figure, sharpening the work of others with little acknowledgement, offering her own wry, dry window on the truth.

It was that Carrie Fisher who rekindled the world’s romance with the now-promoted General Leia Organa as Disney unfurled its exhumation of the Star Wars saga with 2016’s The Force Awakens; who reminded everyone just why she was so bloody brilliant in the first place.

That Carrie Fisher was sharper and wittier than ever before, no less a feminist, a revolutionary or a royal, but blessed with the wisdom of old age and a fearlessness that allowed her to speak honestly and left almost everyone else around her afraid of what she would say.

She had magnificently reconciled her relationship with the role which had almost wholly defined her career, noting that “Princess Leia will be on my tombstone.”

And she didn’t always get it right. Fisher once joked that her life was “like a lone, forgotten cotton bud in the second-to-last drawer”. On that one point, today, millions of fans around the world will beg to differ.

To gently misquote Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, to whom she once stood toe to toe as the Death Star obliterated her home planet, her fire has indeed gone out of the universe, and we are all a little diminished for its loss.

Fisher is notably immortalised by Paul Simon’s song Hearts and Bones, which he wrote about their relationship, and is survived by her mother Debbie Reynolds, brother Todd Fisher, half-sisters Joely and Tricia Leigh Fisher, and her daughter Billie Lourd.

She also leaves behind Gary, the French bulldog, who was her companion, and was by her hospital bedside when she died.