Todd Fisher had tried to put pen to paper. But, as the years passed, the words never came.
That is, until December 27, 2016, when his sister Carrie, Star Wars’ iconic Princess Leia, died. (The writer-actress, 60, fell unconscious on an L.A. bound flight four days earlier and never recovered.) He was hit with another crushing loss the next day when his mother, Debbie Reynolds, passed at 84.
Now, “as the family archivist by default,” he writes in his memoir My Girls, “I owe my girls a thorough, honest, unapologetic account of the life I’ve lived with them.”
The tome covers more than their decades of ups and downs. According to the 60-year-old, it’s “a love letter and thank-you note to the most pivotal, extraordinary women I’ve ever known.”
He gets candid with Us.
Us Weekly: What was it about their deaths that influenced you to release this story?
Todd Fisher: When the events first took place, I had no intention of it. But then I was getting frustrated listening to people talk about what they knew absolutely nothing about. What snapped for me was there were doctors saying Debbie died from a broken heart. That was it. I couldn’t do it anymore. Both of them were beautiful, powerful people and I wanted to make sure they didn’t leave on a false note.
Us: Has writing given you closure?
TF: I don’t think I’ll ever have it. At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea. Writing became a mission. But there were parts that were so difficult to get out. I have to put it up on the list of hardest things I’ve ever done.
Us: You write that, as a kid, Carrie felt she was living in your mom’s shadow. Why?
TF: Part of it had to do with the typical mother-daughter complexities and part of it had to do with my mother being incredible at everything she put her hand to. Then add in the beginning of what was bipolar disorder for Carrie. Consequently, Carrie had a distorted viewpoint. I used to say, “This isn’t a competition,” and she would say, “I know, but it is.”
Us: Was there ever a sibling rivalry?
TF: No, it would be a futile gesture. But we walked on eggshells. My mother, in particular, was very worried that anything could set Carrie off. I had a book deal and spoke to my mom about it. It came down to this: Is it worth it? The answer was no. There were other things I could do that did not require me infringing on what Carrie perceived to be her territory.
Us: Carrie struggled with addiction. How did that affect your family?
TF: My mother was a genius at supporting and loving Carrie through it. If we went down the “tough love” path, my mother’s opinion was that we would have lost Carrie long ago. We had her for 60 years, which is pretty good. I don’t know what more we could have done. There’s no way to know why things are the way they are. We went through a lot of rehabs. I can’t even enumerate them all. My mother friggin’ built a wing on Cedars Sinai for mental health. Carrie had some of the most amazing support. Maybe that’s why we got 60 years.
Us: When did it hit you that you had to say goodbye to her?
TF: The morning I walked in and the game was up. At no time did we lose hope. In my mind I thought, she’s overcome this so many times that I’m not going to worry. She’s Princess Leia. She’s Carrie. She’s going to power through whatever it is.
Us: In the end, do you think there was no saving Carrie from herself?
TF: Carrie was a powerful force. I don’t have to tell anybody that. But at the same time, she was fragile. She had a sensitive side very few people saw. She could break.
Us: Debbie died the next day, but you write it was not from a broken heart. Why do you think she left?
TF: Because she always needed to be with Carrie. My mother spent her whole life looking after Carrie. We tag-teamed. But in that moment, Carrie had gone where only my mother could. I was sitting next to her in bed. She said, “I’m leaving now.” Honestly, it was so peaceful. She couldn’t stand the idea of Carrie being alone.
Us: Do you feel them still with you?
TF: I’m very cognizant that they are around me. I built my mom a house next to mine in Las Vegas. Inside, it’s a time capsule. As you walk in, you feel her presence. It’s magical. And the other night, I had a dream of Carrie. It’s nice when they come visit.
Us: What would you say are their greatest achievements?
TF: My mother would flat out tell you her children. And Carrie would have said her daughter Billie [with ex Bryan Lourd]. When they looked at everything they did in life, that’s what they saw.
Us: How is Billie doing?
TF: I’m very proud of Billie. Her dad has done an amazing job. At times, Carrie was amazing but there were also very difficult times for Carrie to be a mother, so he picked up the slack. It’s unconscionable that someone who was 24 at the time should have to deal with that type of loss. I can’t think of anybody who could have handled it more beautifully.
Us: And, of course, Gary the dog?
TF: Gary is doing good. Carrie was the worst pet owner until Gary. I’ve seen her go through probably 50 pets. They had a magical little relationship.
Us: How did your sister transform Princess Leia into this iconic, feminist role?
TF: The reality was that Carrie really was a princess. She was raised by Debbie, the queen. Carrie was fearless because Debbie made her that way. By growing up around my mother, you become powerful. It was inevitable that she would be the princess.
Us: Was it difficult for you to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi?
TF: It was heartbreaking. I found myself sitting there and then that scene comes up where she’s laying there. Literally, it’s like does art imitate life or does life imitate art? How in the world did that get written into a script and then it happens exactly like that? It’s too hard to even fathom.
Us: What’s next for their legacy?
TF: When Carrie was alive, I wrote a coming-of-age screenplay about growing up in Hollywood and what our life was like. A producer friend and I tried to look at it as a movie. Then we realized there’s not enough time. Now we’ve got 30 episodes for a TV show.
To read an exclusive excerpt from Fisher’s book, pick up the new issue of Us Weekly on newsstands now. My Girls hits shelves June 5.