The mother-daughter pair of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher was the subject of public interest from the moment Fisher was born in 1956, thanks to Reynolds' movie star status. Though Fisher at times struggled to establish her own identity outside of Reynolds' shadow, the two overcame this and other obstacles to become so close that as adults they spent 15 years as next-door neighbors. Fisher and Reynolds died one day apart in December 2016, and the intimacy of their relationship remained constant until the end when the two were buried together.
Reynolds and Fisher's relationship was affected by stardom
Growing up, Fisher adored her mother, as was demonstrated in a photo taken of a 6-year-old Fisher that showed her enraptured by Reynolds performing in Las Vegas. However, a young Fisher also resented her mother's fame. Reynolds once said of her daughter, "She wanted a mother who baked and did embroidery. I was in show business and didn't do that." In an interview with NPR, Fisher explained her childhood dislike of having a celebrity mother: "I had to share her, and I didn't like that. When we went out, people sort of walked over me to get her. And, no, I didn't like it."
Yet these feelings didn't keep Fisher and Reynolds from being close. They'd been left behind, along with Fisher's younger brother, Todd, after father and husband Eddie Fisher had walked away to wed Elizabeth Taylor in 1959. In the early '70s, a teenage Fisher was again by Reynolds' side when her mother's second marriage fell apart due to this husband's yen for sex workers and gambling.
The mother-daughter closeness extended to their careers. By 13, Fisher had joined Reynolds' Vegas nightclub act. In 1973, she left school to appear in the chorus of a Broadway revival Reynolds was headlining. And when Fisher was cast as one of Warren Beatty's paramours in the 1975 film Shampoo, Reynolds took steps to ensure that there would be no offscreen romance. According to Todd, Reynolds told Beatty, "If you touch her, I will take out a hit on you."
Reynolds and Fisher were estranged for years
The success of 1977's Star Wars and its sequels made Fisher more than just her mother's daughter in the public's mind. However, this accomplishment didn't alter the pair's underlying issues. "We had a fairly volatile relationship earlier on in my 20s," Fisher said in a 2011 mother-daughter interview with Oprah Winfrey. "I didn't want to be around her. I did not want to be Debbie Reynolds' daughter." In the same interview, Reynolds shared, "It was a total estrangement. She didn't talk to me for probably 10 years." Fisher clarified, "We talked really badly. We didn't get along. We had the extra, larger-than-life relationship. This is a very powerful person but in order to have my own identity, I have to forge some kind of character out of nothing."
Estrangement wasn't the biggest challenge their relationship would face. Fisher was diagnosed as bipolar in her 20s, and Reynolds confided in Winfrey, "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. 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."
Fisher initially had difficulty accepting her disease. Her drug use, which started at a young age, grew out of control as she turned to substances like acid, heroin and painkillers as a way to cope with her mental illness. In 1985, when she was 28, Fisher entered rehab for the first time.
Reynolds and Fisher reconciled and became neighbors
Following rehab, Fisher wrote Postcards From the Edge, a 1987 novel that was followed by a 1990 film adaptation. In the movie, Meryl Streep portrayed an actress who reunites with her famous mother post-rehab — but the work wasn't an autobiography. Fisher told Entertainment Weekly, "I wrote about a mother actress and a daughter actress. I'm not shocked that people think it's about me and my mother. It's easier for them to think I have no imagination for language, just a tape recorder with endless batteries."
Some inspiration did come from their personal lives, but Reynolds was not dismayed by Postcards. Instead, her relationship with Fisher was getting stronger. In 2000, Reynolds bought the house next door to her daughter's in Beverly Hills. The two would remain neighbors for the rest of their lives. "It took like 30 years for Carrie to be really happy with me," Reynolds once told People.
Fisher boosted her mother's career by writing the television movie (2001), which Reynolds starred in (it also featured Taylor, with whom Reynolds had reconciled years earlier). And when Fisher shared additional personal revelations in her one-woman show, Reynolds was supportive, and even the show when it became a TV special.
Fisher boosted her mother's career by writing the television movie These Old Broads (2001), which Reynolds starred in (it also featured Taylor, with whom Reynolds had reconciled years earlier). And when Fisher shared additional personal revelations in her one-woman show Wishful Drinking, Reynolds was supportive, and even helped her daughter promote the show when it became a TV special.
Reynolds and Fisher were close until the end
In their last years together, Fisher and Reynolds' relationship was a close and mutually admiring one. Reynolds told People, "I'm not as intellectual as my daughter. She says bigger words than I [do], I don't even know what they mean. But she's so amusing to me and it's wonderful to be around her." They joined forces in 2014 and 2015 to film a documentary, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, which premiered in January 2017.
For her part, Fisher lauded Reynolds in an interview with NPR, saying, "I just admire my mother very much. She also annoys me sometimes when she's, you know, mad at the nurses. But, you know, she's an extraordinary woman, extraordinary. There are very few women from her generation who worked like that, who just kept a career going all her life and raised children and had horrible relationships and lost all her money and got it back again. I mean, she's had an amazing life, and she's someone to admire."
Tragedy struck on December 23, 2016, when Fisher went into cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles. She died on December 27 at the age of 60. A few years earlier, Reynolds had written in her autobiography, "It’s not natural to outlive your child. This has always been my greatest fear… I don’t know if I could survive that." The day after Fisher's death, an 84-year-old Reynolds had a stroke while planning the funeral. Before she passed away on December 28, Todd said his mother told him, "I want to go be with Carrie."