It’s difficult to overstate how important Carrie Fisher, who died today, aged 60 following a heart attack Friday afternoon, is to generations of movie audiences.
It’s not simply her role as Princess Leia in five Star Wars movies (yes, five, counting next year’s Star Wars Episode VIII, which finished production earlier this year), although that would be enough for just about anyone else: Leia inspired childhood crushes, hormonal realizations (That slinky outfit from 1983’s Return of the Jedi burned onto so many adolescent retinas) and more noble intentions. Seeing a female character—a princess, no less—who fought as fiercely as the boys, who killed Jabba the Hutt singlehandedly, was something that showed so many girls that they could be the hero of their own stories at an age when few others taught that lesson. For that alone, Fisher earned the adoration of millions.
But there’s so much more. Star Wars, after all, was only a fraction of a career that didn’t just include roles in other beloved movies (she shows up in The Blues Brothers, don’t forget), but also a passion for words that saw her write and perform a number of autobiographical projects—Postcards from the Edge, Surrender the Pink, Wishful Drinking, this year’s The Princess Diarist—and secretly work on screenplays for all number of unlikely movies, from Sister Act and The Last Action Hero to all three of the Star Wars prequels. If you grew up with the cinema of the 1990s, chances are, you’re a fan of her writing and you don’t even know it.
Even beyond that, Fisher was a hero to many because of her openness in discussing her past with addiction and bipolar disorder. She did so fearlessly, not only writing about it in her work, but also making a number of television and public appearances to talk about her experiences, leading to her being awarded the Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from Harvard earlier this year, with the college citing “her forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness and agnosticism” as advancing “public discourse on these issues with creativity and empathy.”
And then there’s the fact that she was just incredibly funny on Twitter.
Despite the much-publicized heart attack on Friday, Fisher’s death nonetheless came as a shock; reports had suggested she was in a stable condition and on the mend, and many believed—or, at least, hoped—that Fisher was tough enough to defeat a year that seemed determined to steal as many pop culture greats as possible. For fans, her death will feel like a personal loss, but social media has already shown that some are responding in a way that Fisher herself would approve of: with sadness, but also a determination to celebrate the best of her life and fight for a better, happier future despite everything, with stubborn bravery and humor.
Carrie, you were one of a kind. You will be missed.
You can find Carrie Fisher’s 1983 20Q interview here.