Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were inseparable in life and death: A look at their lives, loves and unique bond

By Julie Jordan
January 03, 2017 02:20 PM
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Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds, who would have turned 85 on April 1, and her daughter, Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher, had an indelible bond in life — and in death.

Living together as next-door neighbors in Beverly Hills, the women, who were remembered at a public tribute on March 25 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, were a constant presence in each other’s daily lives.

“At the one end of the family compound lived Debbie Reynolds, star of Singin’ in the Rain, with Dorothy’s red slippers from The Wizard of Oz on the mantelpiece,” said Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom, who directed the new HBO documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and shared written memories exclusively with PEOPLE for this week’s cover story. “Adjacent was Princess Leia, in a house where Bette Davis once lived. You don’t get more Hollywood royalty than that. Storytelling magic lived around them.”

For much more about Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher’s lives, loves and unique bond, pick up this issue of PEOPLE

When Reynolds died on Dec. 28 at age 84 from an apparent stroke, the day after Fisher passed away at age 60 following a massive heart attack on an 11-hour flight from London to L.A., the world assumed immeasurable grief had surely played a part.

Stevens and Bloom, who spent more than a year filming the women in 2014 and 2015, saw a relationship that was both codependent and fiercely protective.

Credit: COURTESY FISHER FAMILY ARCHIVES/HBO

“They also deferred to each other – sometimes with tenderness, and sometimes with a distinctly raised eyebrow,” the directors said. “Each was acutely aware of the other’s vulnerabilities. ‘My mother doesn’t like going to the hospital,’ Carrie told us. ‘The lighting is awful.’ ‘Well Carrie, it’s time to go to bed!’ Debbie would say, when her daughter was tired. Even though it was four o’clock in the afternoon, she’d remonstrate: ‘Say good-night to everyone!'”

Watch the full episode of People Cover Story: Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher avilable now on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, Xfinity, iOS and Android devices.

Though their relationship was complicated — the two were estranged at one point for a decade — their support and love for each other was never more obvious than when they collaborated. Fisher co-wrote the 2001 TV movie These Old Broads as “this kind of celebration, a love letter to her mother,” says director Matthew Diamond.

Costarring Elizabeth Taylor, who infamously married Carrie’s father, Eddie Fisher, after he left Reynolds for Taylor, the project “was kind of Carrie’s way of being both affectionate and funny and loving,” adds Diamond, noting that Reynolds and Taylor had mended their friendship by then. “And a little — in that way that Carrie could — both loving and piercing all at the same time.”

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Reynolds and Fisher “were deeply enmeshed in some of the best and funniest ways,” says These Old Broads executive producer Ilene Amy Berg. “Yet when something would go on with Carrie, she’d say, ‘Don’t tell my mother.’ And then something would happen with Debbie and she said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t tell Carrie.’ They loved each other. They had a complicated, funny relationship.”

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Reynolds and Fisher shared everything toward the end of their lives and became each other’s biggest confidant and source of support. Their whimsically decorated compound even included Christmas trees year round because the women loved the lights and all things sparkly.

Credit: Ron Wolfson/Getty

“My mother’s like Christmas,’ Carrie confided. ‘She’s something special,'” recalled Stevens and Bloom, whose documentary premiered Jan. 7 on HBO. “Carrie’s singing moved Debbie to tears. ‘Do you hear that voice?'” she’d say. ‘Wish I had it!'”

It was only fitting that the women were celebrated in a joint funeral, and Reynolds was buried with Fisher’s ashes — which were placed in an urn in the shape of a Prozac pill.

“Carrie said, ‘The umbilical cord was never cut.’ They had what Carrie called ‘rampant empathy’ for each other. And it was contagious,” added Stevens and Bloom. “We started out making a film about Hollywood royalty, and we ended up making a film about love.