Debbie Reynolds 'Wanted to Live' for Her Granddaughter After Carrie Fisher's Death, Says Friend
"I don't know how much longer she would have lived but she really did want to live for Billie [Lourd]," Sue Cameron tells PEOPLE
After the screen legend's death on December 28, 2016 at age 84, many wondered if she had lost her will to live after the tragic death of her daughter, who had suffered a heart attack while flying home from London to Los Angeles.
Fisher's death at age 60 had shattered her mother, says Sue Cameron, a close friend of over four decades. But she adds, "Debbie wanted to be there for her granddaughter Billie [Lourd.] After Carrie died, she had a reason to live, to take care of Billie."
"I don't know how much longer she would have lived but she really did want to live for Billie," Cameron tells PEOPLE. "But a stroke came on and that was it."
Cameron, who wrote about the many stars she befriended in her 40-plus years of covering the industry in her 2018 book Hollywood Secret and Scandals, remembers how Reynolds and Fisher had a closeness that was almost "pre-ordained."
She recalls one night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in December 2010, when they were all backstage before Reynolds was to appear at an event.
At the time, Reynolds owned a massive archive of Hollywood memorabilia and costumes, numbering over 4,000 pieces, including costumes from Singing in the Rain, and Judy Garland's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, collected over many decades.
"We were all there and Debbie was consoling Carrie," says Cameron. "She was sobbing into her mother's shoulder. She was so worried because of the stress that it was causing Debbie to come up with a million dollars a year in storage fees and maintenance for her collection."
"Carrie was so afraid Debbie was going to die if she didn't let go of the costumes, because it was causing her too much stress. She was inconsolable and that was the moment when Debbie said, 'No matter how much I love these things, I can't see my daughter like this anymore,'" notes Cameron. "That was the reason — because of Carrie who was so afraid that Debbie was going to die from the stress of maintaining the memorabilia. And she needed the money to sustain it."
"Those costumes meant everything to Debbie," adds Cameron. "She had spent her own money, millions of dollars, for years to take care of it. She eventually sold it but it broke her heart."
"Carrie was who she loved most in the world," says Cameron.
The recent announcement that the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, set to open in April 2021, is planning to name a "conservation studio" after Reynolds, which will house some pieces from her collection, is a "happy ending" notes Cameron.
"Debbie had a broken heart that the memorabilia didn't have a permanent home and now her dream will come true," she says. "It's what she always wanted."
Now that four years have passed since the death of Reynolds and her beloved daughter, it's still hard to accept they are gone, says Cameron: "I can never really accept losing Debbie, but I know she's on the other side smiling at me."
"As strange as it may sound," she says, "we all lived every day knowing that there might be the awful call one day that Carrie was gone but never Debbie."
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