A close friend of Carrie Fisher's remembers her on the three-year anniversary of her death

By Liz McNeil
December 27, 2019 01:48 PM
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She’s one of the most recognizable stars of one the biggest film phenomenons of all time, but back when Carrie Fisher got the role of Star Wars’ Princess Leia, she didn’t realize the movie was going to be an iconic film franchise.

“She told her mother, [Debbie Reynolds] ‘I have a part in some small science fiction movie,'” recalls veteran Hollywood writer Sue Cameron, a close friend of Reynolds for over 40 years, in an interview with PEOPLE. “That was all it was to her.”

The rest is Hollywood history.

Fisher’s role as Princess Leia turned her into a beloved and unique film star. Her death three years ago, on Dec. 27, 2016, at age 60, shocked the world. As did the death of her mother, screen legend Reynolds, who died the next day of a stroke at age 84.

As Fisher grew older, Cameron says, she embraced the part of Princess Leia.

Carrie Fisher
George Whitear/Lucasfilm

“At the beginning, she did not emotionally connect to the role. She was shocked by the phenomenon and continued to be surprised by its reach,” says Cameron, who wrote about her friendship with Reynolds and other Hollywood legends in her memoir Hollywood Secrets and Scandals. “But later on, Carrie, who had to be talked into going to her first Star Wars conventions to meet fans, found that she just loved it. She was not blasé about it. It really made her feel good. And it was uplifting for her.”

“She was like a little kid who could get really excited,” says Cameron.

It was another side to the witty, intelligent actress and author beloved for her candor and humor who wrote about her depression, her bipolar disorder and her battle with substance abuse in such books as the semi-autobiographical Postcards From The Edge and her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking.

Fisher, the daughter of Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, had a unique take on Hollywood, which she recounted in stories that were brave, funny and courageous.

Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and Sue Cameron
Sue Cameron

“In the last year of her life, she was having challenges again with substance abuse,” says Cameron. “Debbie was worried about her and had a strong feeling she might not make it home for Christmas.”

Reynolds, who lived in the gatehouse on Fisher’s property, had the holiday table set for her entire family, who convened there every year.

“Debbie kept a Christmas tree up 24 hours a day, all year,” says Cameron. “Debbie just loved Christmas. When Carrie was flying in on the plane [from London], Debbie had already made sure the table was set. The menu, everything. But there was no Christmas dinner. The table just sat there.”

RELATED VIDEO: Filming ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Without Carrie Fisher Was ‘Very Emotional’ for Daisy Ridley

On Dec. 23, 2016, Fisher had a heart attack on the flight home from London. She was hospitalized and died four days later.

Her mother died the following day.

“They were each other’s other half and didn’t want to live without each other,” says Cameron, who befriended Reynolds in the early ’70s when she interviewed the star for her column at The Hollywood Reporter and became a close confidante.

She met Carrie when she was 11 years old, and notes, “I watched her grow up.”

“Carrie was absolutely shocked that she was about to be 60 years old,” says Cameron. “She never thought she’d make it. She was bipolar and she had many challenges, and tried to deal with them as best she could.”

Billie Lourd, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Three years since their death, Cameron says, “I think in a way they’ve never left because there are constant reminders about their lives. It’s almost as if they’ve never really gone. Star Wars is back and Carrie’s daughter, Billie [Lourd,] is becoming a star.”

Cameron says she loves watching Lourd’s acting career take off. “She has Carrie’s mind and sense of humor and her courage to be free in front of the camera. But Billie also has Debbie’s spunk. It’s an essence. She has her twinkle, her timing and her energy.”

And she fondly remembers their one of a kind bond and humor.

Fisher, she says, often joked about her signature Princess Leia ear buns.

“She used to warn Billie, ‘Remember, if you ever become an actress, watch what happens to your hair,'” says Cameron. “Once, it was near Halloween time so she wore the ear buns herself at a party. And she’d say to Billie, ‘Always watch what happens to your hair because you’ll be stuck with it forever!'”

“The three women had their own language,” says Cameron. “Being in a room with the three of them was like watching an act — but with them it was real.”