By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun
3:36 PM EST, January 28, 2012
She survived drugs, booze, parental issues, complex relationships and a metal bikini, not to mention the electroconvulsive shock therapy that helps her cope with bipolar disorder. And Carrie Fisher has a lot to say about all of it.
In 2006, the actress and writer who gained global fame as Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" saga poured her eventful life into an autobiographical show, "Wishful Drinking," which went on to play Broadway and was aired on HBO. On Tuesday, Fisher opens a two-week run of "Wishful Drinking" at the Hippodrome.
"I've changed it a little bit," she said. "Otherwise, I would get sick of me. And it always changes anyway because I do audience participation, like at the beginning, when I say, 'A gay man died in my bed. Any questions?'"
Even though that's old news by now — Republican Party adviser Greg Stevens died in Fisher's home seven years ago of an apparent drug overdose — the image of Fisher and the corpse still gives one pause. Then again, it also seems somehow a perfectly normal incident in the life of a woman who will never run out of great stories to tell.
Many of them have to do with growing up in the spotlight of her parents, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, who left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor in one of Hollywood's most sensational scandals.
Carrie Fisher has plenty of material to use from her own attempts at love. There was, for example, her longtime dating with, brief marriage to, divorce from, and subsequent longtime dating with Paul Simon.
Then there was her relationship with talent agent Bryan Lourd, who fathered Fisher's daughter, Billie, before leaving to live with another man.
"I turn people gay," said Fisher, 55. "That's what I do. It is an unusual superpower. I recently met a woman who said, 'I'm gay because of you.' She had developed a crush on Princess Leia. Rufus Wainwright and his boyfriend are staying with me, and I have a straight friend in the other guest room — maybe I'll turn him gay by the end of the month."
Fisher is also turning heads these days, since becoming a national spokeswoman last year for the Jenny Craig weight-loss system. Fisher reached 180 pounds before deciding she had to take action. Last summer, she reported a 50-pound drop.
"I did put on eight pounds over the holidays," she said. "I didn't like that. I can't let it happen. Everyone's waiting for me to gain all the weight back, which is a little terrifying."
Fisher came to terms with a lot of other difficult issues over the years, notably substance abuse. Despite the title of her show, "I wasn't even a big drinker," she said. "I just drank when the drugs ran out."
No less than Cary Grant called her — twice — to try to help her deal with her LSD problem. Debbie Reynolds asked Grant, who had experimented with acid, to do the first consultation; Eddie Fisher called on the actor to do the same thing a few years later.
Mental illness eventually added to Fisher's challenges. That topic, too, is part of "Wishful Drinking."
Growing up in Hollywood does separate Fisher's life from that of most people in her audience.
"Yes, show business is different," she said, "but not really. I put the ordinary in 'extraordinary.' I think people like hearing that you can not only survive some of these things, but thrive from them."
There are limits, though, to what Fisher discusses onstage.
"Quite a bit is held back," she said. "There are stories about others or myself that I would never tell. I don't want to embarrass my daughter any more than I already have. I only tell the stories that can be made funny. Some of them even I could not make funny."
Although Fisher got used to revealing things in print — her semi-autobiographical novel "Postcards from the Edge" came out in 1987 and was later made into a film — taking the stage to do so was another matter.
"When my mother put me in her nightclub act when I was 13, like all mothers do," Fisher said, "I had very, very bad stage fright. So I was afraid to perform ['Wishful Drinking']. My legs used to shake. But the trick would have been for me to stay out of show business, to escape. Now I enjoy it. It's amazing."
Even therapeutic. Although Fisher still contends with depression, she has never canceled a performance because of it.
"I grew up watching my mother do the show-must-go-on thing to a ridiculous extreme," Fisher said, "like singing 'Tammy' with her foot in a bucket of ice. I have gone onstage depressed and been healed by it. My hairdresser calls it 'Dr. Footlights.' If you act better than you feel, eventually it will catch up with you."
But not always. A few years ago, when depression tightened its grip with particular force, Fisher agreed to electroconvulsive therapy. "For me, it was as taboo as it is for everyone else," she said. But she found the treatment worthwhile.
Given all she has been through, Fisher regrets she did not get straight earlier.
"I wish that I had, for my daughter's sake," she said. "I am not proud of putting her through that, although by the time she came around, I had gone sober. I was sober for most of her childhood. But I did slip, as they say, after my friend died in my bed."
Fisher's voice brightens when she talks about 19-year-old Billie, who lives in New York, where she is studying business administration and music.
"She's a miracle," Fisher said. "She raised herself in a lot of ways. She is a straight-A student. And she's not a druggie at all — I made it look that bad. Our relationship is fantastic."
Fisher had issues with her father, who died in 2010, and some of those make it into "Wishful Drinking." That didn't keep him from attending a performance.
"My dad had to be a good sport about it," Fisher said "He'd done his share of unkind revelations in his book, which I didn't like — for my mother's sake. But he loved my show. He was in a wheelchair and came onstage. We sang together, and the audience gave us quite an ovation. He even stood up, as if he'd been healed."
Although Fisher hasn't always gotten along swimmingly with her mother, the two seem to have a firm bond. They live next door to each other, just as Reynolds once lived next door to her mother.
"We don't see each other all the time," Fisher said, "but my mother does call and gander up more frequently."
As for a romantic relationship, Fisher is on hiatus. She hasn't closed any doors, though.
"Maybe I'll meet someone when I'm in Baltimore," she said.
If you go
"Wishful Drinking" opens Tuesday and runs through Feb. 12 at the Hippodrome, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets are $49 to $69.50. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.
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