Movie News & Reviews

Debbie Reynolds’ son learns to say goodbye after the deaths of his mother and sister

Carrie Fisher kisses her mother, Debbie Reynolds, as they arrive at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles in 2011. The two died in late December.
Carrie Fisher kisses her mother, Debbie Reynolds, as they arrive at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles in 2011. The two died in late December. Associated Press

Debbie Reynolds, the star of “Singin’ in the Rain,” died in late December, just a day after her daughter, “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher. But before she died, her son said, she gently, sweetly “asked permission to leave the planet.”

Todd Fisher remembers sitting just two feet away from Reynolds in her Los Angeles room when she made the request.

“She flat-out says to me, ‘I know it was tough losing Carrie, and I imagine it’s going to be tough losing me. I really need to know if you’re going to be OK when I go,’ ” recalled the filmmaker, who then reassured his mother that he would.

“Just before she left, she said, ‘I want to be with Carrie,’ ” Fisher recalled. “Her eyes closed and she never opened them again. There was something beautiful in that moment.”

Nearly three months after the deaths of his 84-year-old mother and 60-year-old sister, Fisher, who has a ranch in Creston, spoke to The Tribune about their deaths and the legacy they left behind.

“I don’t like the loss but I accept it as part of life,” he said. “If I had to think I’d never see them again, that would be very distressing,” he added, explaining that his faith — like his mother’s — sustains him. “We shall all meet again.”

That loss is equally felt by Carrie Fisher and Reynolds’ legions of loyal fans.

“If you’re on this planet, you know who they are on some level,” Todd Fisher said.

Talking about his mother and sister’s careers, Fisher stressed how seriously Reynolds, the Oscar- and Tony Award-nominated star of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and “The Singing Nun,” took her unofficial job as “America’s sweetheart.”

“My mother used to sit and sign autographs endlessly,” Fisher said. “She understood the importance of the relationship between her and her fans, and she went out of her way to connect with them.”

Fisher and his older sister “shared (our) mother with the world,” he added. “We wouldn’t hardly walk down the street without people coming up to us. You couldn’t have a moment in the park without people interrupting.”

Although Carrie Fisher, whose screen credits included “Shampoo,” had a more thorny relationship with fame — she tartly described an autograph signing as a “celebrity lap dance” — her attitude changed once Reynolds “told her she was being a snob,” Todd Fisher recalled. “That changed Carrie’s consciousness.”

While his mother and sister often took center stage, Todd Fisher said he was content to remain mostly “in the background.”

“It became apparent to me at age 15” — when his mother was divorcing her second husband, Harry Karl, who reportedly gambled away her fortune — that “my purpose in life was to look after these two girls,” he told a crowd at the Fremont Theatre on Wednesday after a screening of the HBO documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.” The event was part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.

Todd Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher pose for a picture. The Fisher family is featured in the HBO documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” which screened March 15, 2017, as part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. Fisher Family Archives - Courtesy of HBO

Fisher, a producer who has offices in Creston, Las Vegas, and Ennis, Montana, said after the event that a lot of his time “has been invested in their dreams, but let’s face it, they were honorable dreams … worthy dreams.” As part of that, he has played a key role in safeguarding their legacies — and will continue doing so.

“I’ve always been a keeper of the archives,” he said. “They both attained a certain sense of celebrity and a certain sense of fame, and with that comes a certain sense of responsibility to maintain (the connection with) those fans.”

That’s one of the reasons he and his family will hold a public memorial service for Carrie Fisher and Reynolds in Los Angeles later this month. The free ceremony is set for March 25 at a theater at Forest Lawn Cemetery Hollywood Hills, with seating available on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Believe me, it rips your heart out every time you go through one of these memorials,” Todd Fisher said, adding that he’d “love to be done with this part of it.” At the same time, he acknowledged the importance of letting the public join in the grieving process.

Fisher said fans may be comforted by one fact. “Many people leave this planet with very little left behind, but Carrie and Debbie left this planet with enormous things behind them,” he said, including movies and books.

Carrie Fisher wrote several novels and memoirs, including “Postcards from the Edge,” “Wishful Drinking” and “The Princess Diarist.”

Yet only about 1 percent of her writings — including unsent letters, short stories and scripts — have been published, her brother said, adding that her “massive archives … rival a presidential library.” (He added that they may still see the light of day.)

“They both left behind so much, so that they (their fans) can miss them less,” Todd Fisher said.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune