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The Extremities of Real Life: Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher

Published on February 15, 2017, at 8:32 a.m.
by Briana Borcic.

It is said that the sole responsibility of a public relations professional is to shine a positive light on their clients — a light that keeps their clients relevant, popular, liked and admired. Toward the end of Debbie Reynolds’ and Carrie Fisher’s lives, it was obvious the admirable impact they had on their fans and other publics, but they did not always have the happiest relationship.

Hollywood actress Debbie Reynolds died a mere 24 hours after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, who was most famously known for her role as Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” series. The media speculated that the death of Reynolds was related to a phenomenon known as a “broken heart .”

“I have heard countless stories of couples who have been married forever, and when one of them passes away, the other one will pass away shortly after,” said Comedy Works’ Denver assistant, Abby Nelson.

Reynolds was a working mom who spent a lot of time on set and in production, which by default meant that Fisher would grow up in the spotlight. Their relationship of mother and daughter slowly became estranged, and Fisher turned to drugs at a young age.

Photo by Allen Warren

“It seems like you have a mother who was very much into her career and maybe not so much into the mothering part,” said Dr. Lindsay Sutton, who has a Ph.D. in Psychology, is a brand strategist at Intermark Group and a public relations professor at The University of Alabama (UA). “From what is published, it seems like a lot of Carrie’s childhood was spent on sets. I think in that atmosphere with a lot of different influences, but the focus being on your parent’s career, a child may struggle with identity formation, attachment and stability.”

Since Reynolds was a hard-working mother, there seemed to be an invisible battle between being a mother and being a Hollywood star. The picture painted most recently was the undeniable bond between the famous mother-daughter duo. Deeper beneath the surface, their relationship was not as strong as it seemed.

“When you put anyone under the microscope, they’re not going to look good. Me, you, anyone,” said Dr. Sutton. “But in this case, their relationship, or lack thereof, was a very public one.”

The mother-daughter duo had a relationship that was estranged for a few decades. It is unquestionable that a mother’s influence can be invaluable on her daughter. Dr. Sutton explained that as women we look to our mother, or a female guardian, for so many questions about who we are, self-esteem, our bodies, how we act with relationships and more when developing into a woman. If there was a deficit in this relationship, that might help to explain a lot of the hardship Fisher experienced in her life. In the presence of strained parent-child relationships it is not uncommon to see behavioral and impulse control disorders, so one might see things like drug abuse, strained sexuality and lack of academic achievement.

“Child actors get a really bad rap. We think they have all of these resources in their life, an access to this great life,” Sutton explained. “We judge it from a perspective of a common citizen, not from an actor. Somehow we evaluate an actor differently, not understanding she is broken or lost just like anyone else might be and maybe doesn’t know how to cope or understand what she’s going through. This may be especially true when you realize you are a child.”

The viewing public is limited to the media when determining who an actor is, who an iconic celebrity family is and what they have done in their lifetime. The story of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher cannot be told in all truth because it is from an outside perspective. What the public has are quotes of the mother and daughter, pictures, stories and history.

In PR, it is often said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Once a fractured relationship, Reynolds and Fisher seem to share a much closer and mature bond in the last period of their lives. What can be looked at now is a relationship that has formed and matured.

Bright Lights,” a new documentary depicting the relationship of Reynolds and Fisher, creates an inspiring view. It does not deny the hardships they faced or belittle the love they had for one another; it exemplifies life. People like real life.

“Their last engagement was a reality TV drama. The ending to their story is still unwritten and will remain unwritten,” said Sutton. “But the fact that Fisher’s mom died so close — was that shock to Reynolds’ system so emotional that within a day she couldn’t recover? Maybe that speaks volumes to how she felt about her daughter, but didn’t ever tell her or convey it in a way that Carrie could ever feel or see or understand.”

The media showed us two sides of their life, the extremities of life and the heart-breaking deaths. The undeniable truth, the positive light, is that there was a bond so strong between the two that it created an untimely death for Reynolds.

“I think the average person sees them as a mother-daughter pair who ultimately loved one another ‘to death,’ but were burdened with their own problems that were only worsened by the fact that everything they did was public,” said Nelson.


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