In an excerpt from PEOPLE’s new commemorative issue, Carrie Fisher: Hollywood Princess, comedian Margaret Cho remembers the actress and author as an advocate for people facing addiction and mental health issues.
“A Light in the Darkness”
by Margaret Cho
I first met Carrie at one of the big celebrity parties she used to throw with Penny Marshall for their October birthdays. I didn’t know her; I was there with a gaggle of other young women who were all “plus ones” of other people, and Carrie and Penny thought we were prostitutes — I was so excited. I had never been mistaken for a prostitute before! But we were allowed to stay. I talked to her a little bit — she had just had Billie, so I remember there was this tiny infant.
She was very generous and open. In a town defined by artifice, she was never afraid to be her true self — even though she was Hollywood royalty. I think that’s why she was so perfect for the character of Princess Leia, who became a rebel even though she came from within the system.
But Carrie wasn’t just a movie monarch. Her unbelievable courage made her the true, true princess of another kind of royal family, one made up of people who suffer from addiction and mental illness. I deal with my depression and addiction issues by talking about them, making comedy about them, and that’s what Carrie did, not just with mental health but with everything we experience as women: the way we are judged for our weight, appearance, our age. By making people laugh you bring strength to suffering, but first you have to lean into the pain. That’s where our truth comes from. Creativity is the flower, but it has to be slathered with manure if it’s going to bloom!
Honesty wasn’t always an option for women in Hollywood, of course. Debbie Reynolds was a strong individual, but she was a star at a time when women couldn’t open up about what they were going through. Carrie bucked that system. She told her story — and her mom’s.
I’m not Hollywood royalty; I’m Korean bookstore-owner royalty. The most Asian part of myself is my characterization of my mother and the fun that I have with her voice, her quirks. That’s exactly what Carrie did with her mother. We blow up and exaggerate traits so you can’t see what is real and what’s made up. It’s a hard thing to make jokes from our lives and to be asked, Is this true? In her honesty, Carrie was an incredibly empowering woman.
She was a light in the darkness.
PEOPLE’s commemorative issue, Carrie Fisher: Hollywood Princess, including a tribute to Debbie Reynolds, is on sale now.