Inside Carrie Fisher's Complicated Relationship with Mom Debbie Reynolds — and Their Close Bond Before Her Death
Born to two of the most famous people in the world, Carrie Fisher had a childhood that was anything but normal.
Reynolds, who died at age 84 on Wednesday, had a fraught relationship with her daughter, although the two were close in the years before their deaths.
Their complicated bond was memorably documented in Postcards from the Edge, the 1990 movie based on Fisher’s 1987 semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Meryl Streep portrayed a Fisher-like character who returns home to her famous mother’s house after a stint in rehab.
In recent years, Fisher wryly but lovingly documented their relationship in Wishful Drinking, the Broadway show, book and HBO special that offered her unvarnished take on her unusual childhood and later struggles with addiction.
Reynolds herself once told PEOPLE that her children “were raised in movies.” As kids, Reynolds said Carrie and her brother Todd’s “birthday parties were always on MGM’s back lot … We were always playing there.”
But for Fisher, being the child of celebrities was not always easy.
With her famous pedigree, it didn’t take long before Fisher began exploring the L.A. party scene. She started smoking marijuana at 13, and by her early 20s her drug use had spiraled out of control, as she abused everything from cocaine and heroin to painkillers and acid. At age 28 she made her first trip to rehab.
“She was doing a film. She had collapsed on the set and they had to take her to Cedars Sinai [hospital],” Reynolds remembered during their joint interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2011. “First of all, it was a terrifying night. It was just pouring rain, so you can picture you’re in the car with the rain smashing against the windshield and you’re crying like mad and you don’t know if your daughter is going to be alive when you get there.”
She added, “There have been a few times when I thought I was going to lose Carrie. I’ve had to walk through a lot of my tears. but she’s worth it.”
Fisher survived rehab, but in her late 20s she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and struggled to come to terms with it. “My lowest point in Carrie and my relationship was probably when we discovered that she was ill, or that she had this mental health problem, and that it was going to be with her forever,” Reynolds told Winfrey. “That was very hard. How is she going to get along in life? How can I help her in life? All I could do is love her, and always shall.”
Desperately seeking her own identity, Fisher became distanced from Reynolds. The two barely spoke for almost ten years. “We had a fairly volatile relationship earlier on in my 20s,” Fisher told Winfrey. “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.”
Earlier, the pair warily bonded when Reynolds’ second marriage to Harry Karl was falling apart after she discovered the businessman had secretly gambled away both of their fortunes. For Reynolds, Fisher became a somewhat reluctant confidant. “I wanted my own life. And her life was crazy at that time, and I was in it, and I was [her] confidant. I did know what was going on in there and it was chaos and it was hard for all of us.”
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.
During their joint sitdown with Winfrey, Reynolds said, “I would say that Carrie and I have finally found happiness. I admire her strength and survival. I admire that she is alive, that she has chosen to make it. It would have been easy to give up and give in and to keep doing drugs. I always feel, as a mother does, that I protect her. I want happiness for my daughter — I want Carrie to be happy.”
Fisher responded, “What I say about being happy is that I am ‘also happy.’ I’m happy among other things. Happy is one of the many feelings or experiences that I will have throughout a day. I think happy has been sort of made into this Hallmark card of a word, and I don’t know what that means. So I will just say that I enjoy my life, I make choices, I do what I want to do. I am a strong person, I’m not afraid of almost anything, and that’s a lot because of your example.”