Carrie Fisher may have played a fierce warrior as Princess Leia on-screen, but she was also battling for something incredibly important off-screen.
The actress—who passed away at age 60 on Tuesday after suffering a heart attack—left behind a legacy of fighting for mental health and raising awareness around it.
She infamously struggled with addiction in the 1970s and ’80s, admitting she used cocaine and LSD, but after getting sober and being diagnosed as bi-polar and manic depressive, she turned her experiences into action.
Carrie Fisher, SAG Awards
She used her struggle with drug abuse to write a novel called Postcards From the Edge in 1987, which was eventually transformed into a film with Meryl Streep as the lead. She also began speaking publicly about struggling with depression and being bi-polar, helping de-stigmatize mental health issues and becoming one of the first famous faces to do so.
“I used to think I was a drug addict, pure and simple—just someone who could not stop taking drugs willfully,” Fisher told Diane Sawyer in an interview in 1995. “And I was that. But it turns out that I am severely manic depressive.”
She later added, “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.”
In her 2008 book, Wishful Drinking, the actress dove head first into the topic of mental health as well.
“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder,” she wrote.
“In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls,” she continued. “At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
In 2013, she opened up to the Herald Tribune and explained the importance of pursuing dreams despite any mental illness. “Stay afraid, but do it anyway,” she said. “What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
Carrie Fisher, 2001
Fisher also discussed mental illness with People magazine in 2013 and offered her biggest piece of advice in dealing with depression and being bi-polar. “The only lesson for me, or for anybody, is that you have to get help,” she said. “It’s not a neat illness. It doesn’t go away.”
In her willingness to step up for the issue, the actress was depicted as the “poster child” for being bipolar, and while some may find that unsettling, she told WebMD that she is proud that she defined the illness rather than letting it define her.
“Well, I am hoping to get the centerfold in Psychology Today,” she joked before adding, “It’s a combination of everything. It was out there, anyway; I wanted my version of it out there. Now, it seems every show I watch there’s always someone bipolar in it! It’s going through the vernacular like ‘May the force be with you’ did. But I define it, rather than it defining me.”
Needless to say, the late actress’ legacy in the mental health realm will live on.