After a sudden heart attack a couple days ago, actress/writer Carrie Fisher has died. Many folks have been, well, saying something about whether or not 2016 is a cursed year. A number of well-known people died this past year, and many of them will be deservedly missed. Carrie Fisher was no different.
But I’m having some complicated feelings on this subject.
To be clear, I’ll miss Fisher. She was a delightful presence, a quick wit, and someone who touched a lot of lives onscreen and off. She was an eloquent supporter for issues involving mental illness after her own problems with bipolar syndrome and drug and alcohol abuse. For many, she was one of the first female action heroes. As someone once told me, when she was growing up, her only action role models were Fisher’s Leia and Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman.
But I don’t want to diminish Fisher’s accomplishments or make it seem as if she shouldn’t be missed. She absolutely should. And I’ve mentioned before how odd it can be if you think about celebrity death and how we come to feel about people we don’t really know. What seems oddest to me now for when I first wrote that was that I left Fisher off the list of aging celebrities because she was not at the time over 60. Her dying wasn’t even on my radar. She was an inspiration, probably more so than her male co-stars. Leia may not have held the main protagonist role of Hamill’s Luke Skywalker or had the brash charisma of Ford’s Han Solo, but male action heroes were and are much more common than a kick-ass Princess who can take care of herself just fine. Leia wasn’t the one captured by Ewoks, after all.
However, I do feel it is worth noting there were another pair of deaths, one of whom could be just as inspiring to girls as Fisher was.
That would be astrophysicist Vera Rubin. She confirmed the theory of dark matter was true. She was 88. Rubin was working in a field that even today probably doesn’t have many women working in it. The riddle of dark matter had been an unsolved puzzle for roughly forty years, and it was Rubin’s own observations in the 1970s that proved it true. In the world of astrophysics, that’s a big deal.
Meanwhile, author Richard Adams also died. Adams’ best known work was a surprisingly violent novel about talking rabbits that go to war with each other, Watershed Down.
I am all for people mourning Carrie Fisher’s death. She deserves to be mourned. But let’s not overlook other deaths of people who added to our knowledge or our culture while we are at it. They deserve to be mourned as well.