Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher: Their Parallel Lives
From their big breaks to their deaths, here are a few instances where Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher's lives mimicked one another
The mother-daughter duo’s Hollywood careers were filled with coincidences. From their signature movies to their troubled marriages, here are a few instances where their lives lined up.
Both had breakout roles at 19
Reynolds had one of those classic Hollywood discovery stories. As a contestant in the Miss Burbank beauty pageant when she was 16, a talent scout from Warner Bros. discovered her and signed her to a contract with the powerhouse studio.
She made five films in three years with luminaries like Lana Turner and Fred Astaire — but it was her sixth that turned Reynolds from just another ingénue into America’s Sweetheart: Singin’ in the Rain. She was 19.
Growing up the daughter of Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, Fisher was surrounded by the illustrious world of film, theater and television. But despite ensemble roles in Broadway’s Irene (alongside Reynolds) and a film debut in the Warren Beatty-led Shampoo, she didn’t have her breakout gig until a not-so-little sci-fi action film called Star Wars.
Auditioning for the 1977-film at 19, Fisher held her own alongside future costar Harrison Ford. She would go on to score the role of Princess Leia — and reprise the part in four other films in the franchise.
Both played fearless women throughout their careers
Princess Leia suffered no fools. Neither did Kathy Selden, Reynolds chorus girl turned movie star in Singin’ in the Rain. These were two strong, independent female characters who had ownership over their lives — mold-breaking movements at the time for their respective film genres.
They were also just two roles in a long line of strong women the actresses portrayed on screen. There was Fisher’s soap opera casting agent Betsy Faye Sharon in 1991’s Soapdish — a self-identifying “bitch” who had no problem bossing around her male actors (and occasionally, sleeping with them). And there was her turn in 1899’s When Harry Met Sally where she played Meg Ryan’s best friend Marie who felt no social shame being a single New Yorker dating a married man.
For Reynolds, one can look no further than 1964’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown. As Margaret Brown, the no-nonsense, tough-as-nails survivor of the 1912 Titanic sinking, Reynolds embodied Brown’s “unsinkable” spirit. Big, brassy and bold, she pushes her way through every obstacle in her path to get her own happy ending. The part earned Reynolds an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, but it really won her generations of female admirers who would not be afraid to speak their minds.
Both were animated personalities
In addition to their live-action roles, Reynolds and Fisher also regularly worked on animated projects — even both voicing characters on Fox’s Family Guy.
Reynolds first began her voice-over career with the 1973 animated adaptation of E.B. White’s classic tale Charlotte’s Web — where she voiced Charlotte, the loving spider who helps a pig named Wilbur discover his confidence. She would later voice characters on Kim Possible, Rugrats, The Penguins of Madagascar (among others), and most recently, 2015’s The 7D.
Fisher voiced Princess Leia in a number of animated Star Wars videos games and shorts. She also participated in the animated films Happily Ever After, Two Daddies?, A Child’s Garden of Poetry. Family Guy was her most frequent voice-over gig. She appeared in 23 episodes across 11 years — playing Angela, the head of the Shipping Department of the Pawtucket Brewery and the supervisor of Peter Griffin and Opie.
Both were unlucky in love
While their on-screen careers may have brought them success, Reynolds and her daughter were a little less lucky in their romantic lives.
Reynolds’ first husband Eddie Fisher got her involved in one of the greatest scandals in Hollywood history. The couple were best friends with another A-list celebrity duo: Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd. After Todd died in a 1958 plane crash, Fisher and Taylor become an item — leading to Eddie’s widely publicized divorce from Reynolds in 1959, and marriage to Taylor.
One year later, Reynolds married businessman Harry Karl. They were both worth millions at the time, but Karl was a notorious gambler who lost all of his money — and all of hers, too. After 13 years, the couple divorced and Reynolds was left broke.
“It was very difficult,” Reynolds said on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2011. “Everything went — homes and everything. Every bill he had — he owed $10 million— so then I got to pay that off. Everything was taken by the government.”
“I had such good taste in men,” she joked.
Fisher didn’t do much better. She had an explosive love affair with singer Paul Simon — marrying in 1983, divorcing a year later. They continued to date on and off for about a decade before ending their relationship.
In Peter Ames Carlin’s biography Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon, their tumultuous relationship was explained as a mix of love and personal crises — stemming from their swinging states of depression, Fisher’s drug use and an array of personal insecurities.
After the two split for good, Fisher went on to have a relationship with talent agent Bryan Lourd. Though they never married and split once Lourd came out as gay, they had one child together: actress Billie Lourd, 24. Bryan Lourd is now married to Bruce Bozzi.
Both were outspoken — and learned from each other
Their personal struggles never silenced Reynolds or Fisher from talking frankly about their pains. Whether it be about their divorces, the perils of dating, aging in Hollywood, or their relationship with each other — both were outspoken and unfiltered in interviews throughout their careers.
Fisher especially was a passionate mental health advocate after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1985. Managing the illness with medication and electroconvulsive therapy, she often wrote about her treatment, and the lessons she learned by embracing the disorder. In an inspiring letter published weeks before her death, Fisher even showed just how fearless she was in sharing her experience with other members of the bipolar community.
They also listened to each other — and learned from their mistakes. As Reynolds explained to Oprah, watching how Fisher managed her bipolar disorder helped to make her an even stronger person.
“I am a strong person,” she said. “I’m not afraid of almost anything, and that’s a lot because of [Fisher’s] example.”
Both were loving mothers
Though they loved each other until the end, Reynolds and Fisher had a somewhat complicated bond — most memorably documented in Postcards from the Edge, the 1990 movie based on Fisher’s 1987 semi-autobiographical novel of the same name.
Desperately seeking her own identity from the shadow of her mother’s fame, Fisher became estranged from Reynolds. The two barely spoke for almost ten years. “We had a fairly volatile relationship earlier on in my 20s,” Fisher told Oprah. “I didn’t want to be around her. I did not want to be Debbie Reynolds’ daughter.”
“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,” said Reynolds. “It was a total estrangement. She didn’t talk to me for probably 10 years. So that was the most difficult time of all. Very painful, very heartbreaking.”
Ultimately, time began to heal their relationship. “It took like 30 years for Carrie to be really happy with me,” Reynolds told PEOPLE. “I don’t know what the problem ever was. I’ve had to work at it. I’ve always been a good mother, but I’ve always been in show business, and I’ve been on stage and I don’t bake cookies and I don’t stay home,” she added.
Fisher was sure not to repeat those mistakes with her own daughter, Billie. The two were incredibly close — with the Scream Queens star even making an appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
“I’m always proud of my mother, she’s killing it right now,” Billie previously told PEOPLE. “She’s incredible,” she said.
“She’s had such an incredible career and she’s done so many shows that people don’t even know about,” Lourd added, about Reynolds. “She performs in Reno, she performs all over the country. It’s an incredible thing for people to see what a full star she is. She really does it all.”
Fisher, 60, was aboard an 11-hour flight from London to Los Angeles on Friday when she went into cardiac arrest. She later died Tuesday, in the hospital.
Reynolds died Wednesday at the age of 84. According to reports, she was only thinking about daughter in her final moments — telling her son Todd Fisher hours before her stroke: “I miss her so much, I want to be with Carrie,” Todd told TMZ.
For two women who led such parallel lives, it almost seems fitting that their stories would come to an end at the same time.