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Carrie Fisher: Living out loud

Interview » Actress/author talks about addiction, mental illness, embracing her icon status, and her odd second-life in a galaxy far, far away.

By Sean P. Means

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Nov 02 2012 01:06 pm • Last Updated Mar 06 2013 11:31 pm

Carrie Fisher embodies the notion that one should never live in quiet desperation, as Thoreau said most men do, when one can live in loud desperation.

Fisher’s life has been out in public since she was a baby, the offspring of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher — then dubbed "America’s Sweethearts," at least until Eddie left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor.

At a glance

‘An Evening With Carrie Fisher’

Actress, writer and mental-health advocate Carrie Fisher will speak and receive the Kim Peek Award for Disability in Media.

When » Friday, Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m.

Where » Jeanné Wagner Theatre, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.

Tickets » $50, at ArtTix outlets.

VIP tickets » $150, also at ArtTix; include a pre-event private reception from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Valter’s Osteria, 173 W. 300 South (the former Metropolitan).

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At 19, she landed the acting role that made her globally famous, the feisty rebel Princess Leia in the original "Star Wars" trilogy.

She then dealt with drug and alcohol abuse, a diagnosis of manic depression, and tabloid coverage of her marriage to singer/songwriter Paul Simon (which ended in divorce) and her relationship with casting agent Bryan Lourd (who came out as gay).

All of these events have become fodder for Fisher’s novels (the first was Postcards From the Edge, which became a movie starring Meryl Streep) and memoirs (notably Wishful Drinking, which Fisher turned into a one-woman stage show). Her life also has fueled her activism as a mental-health advocate.

Fisher will visit Salt Lake City on Nov. 9 to receive the Utah Film Center’s second annual Kim Peek Award for Disability in Media, and will speak at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

Fisher spoke with The Salt Lake Tribune by phone on Oct. 27, three days before the Walt Disney Co. announced it had purchased LucasFilm for $4.05 billion. In a far-ranging conversation, Fisher talked about mental illness, addiction and her odd second life in a galaxy far, far away.

You’re visiting Salt Lake City to receive the Kim Peek Award for Disability in Media. Is this what you meant in "Wishful Drinking" when you said you’re finally getting awards for what you do best?

I’ve said that if I get enough mental-illness awards, I can trade them in for sanity.

You’re listed not just as an actress and writer, but also as a mental-health advocate. How does that part of your life manifest itself?

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I suppose in doing things like this. I’ve also spoken out about some of the laws on the books about what insurance will cover for mental illness, talking about ECT [electro-convulsive therapy] and the stigma attached to that. You end up either advertently or inadvertently learning a lot about this stuff as you go along. And I don’t think "advertently" is a word — I just like to use it.

When you were diagnosed as manic-depressive, what’s now usually called bipolar, was there a sense of relief that at least now you had a label for what’s going on?

No, I was angry. I didn’t believe the person. I thought they were trying to shortcut my therapy and pigeonhole me into something. I didn’t have any kind of understanding of what it was.

I was initially told I was "bipolar II," the hypomanic thing. But I was diagnosed when I was actively using [drugs], and you can’t really properly diagnose someone who’s still under the influence — under the cruel shade of the influence — because anybody on drugs or alcohol, if they abuse it, they’re going to look like a manic-depressive whether they are or not.

I had to be sober a year to finally accept the diagnosis. When I was told I was an alcoholic or addict, I was relieved about that, because I didn’t understand why I was driven to do this, and that anybody else was — that I wasn’t some freak with this appetite that I couldn’t seem to adequately feed. When I got that diagnosis, I thought, "Well, fine, great, that’s what I am, then. I am an addict and just let me focus on that and deal with that." I went into AA — oh, you’re not supposed to say AA — so I got sober with a bunch of people in rehab, and we sort of went to meetings together. Over the years, they all kind of leveled out, and I kind of headed in the opposite direction. And when I accepted I was an addict, I stopped therapy, because I’m an addict — that’s really my central issue, so let’s stop chattering about this other s---.

So after a year, it was just exhausting that obviously that wasn’t all that I was. So I had a friend who would sometimes talk about his shrink. It was David Geffen. His shrink would say these really raw things to him. And he’s an intimidating guy. So, I thought, I want to talk to that lady. So I went to this woman, Dr. Foster, and within one session she told me I was manic-depressive. And at that point I was relieved.

How important is it to you that addiction is regarded as a disability?

"Disability" — it just sounds like someone is broken. This is an issue that I have, a condition I have — and that I sometimes struggle with, and sometimes enjoy and sometimes blessedly don’t have to think about all. But most of the time, it has to be on the schedule somewhere. The fact is there isn’t another word, so "disability" will have to do.

Do you still see resistance from people who want to think of addiction as a personal failing and not a disability or a condition?

I’ve been asked the question if I think my manic-depression is a result of my years of partying. [Laughs.] I just think there are a lot of people who aren’t really educated about it. I do think this is something that I’ve had to struggle with and master in some way — in whatever way that I could, to the degree that you can. If you can do that and kind of still walk around, and not feel defeated and disabled — and unable and unequal — to this thing, to this sort of chink in your DNA, you can sort of feel like a successful wrestler.

When you’re in the middle of it, you’re not even disabled — disabled is a goal. When you get to the other side of it, it’s sort of like, "All right, motherf---er, c’mon, bring it on." But you say that after it’s been brought.

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