A day after Carrie Fisher died, her mother, legendary actress Debbie Reynolds passed away. Son Todd Fisher said that Reynolds' last words were, "I miss her so much, I want to be with Carrie." One could say the 84-year-old died of a broken heart — and many did in the tributes that poured in for the Singing in the Rain star, honoring her 68 years in Hollywood that made her both famous and infamous. While these are sweet remembrances of a woman who, like her daughter, always had a sense of humor about her Hollywood fame, no one will honor her mom quite like Fisher did in 2015 when Fisher presented Reynolds with Lifetime Achievement Award at the Screen Actor's Guild Awards.
Debra Messing tweeted that Reynolds, who played her mom on Will & Grace, was "my 'mom' for years & I loved her dearly. A legend." Albert Brooks who cast her as his mother in 1996's Mother wrote, "Debbie Reynolds, a legend and my movie mom." But it was Fisher's tribute just one year ago that had the most impact.
When Fisher took the stage to present her mom with the prize, she started with a joke. "I am very close to this year's Life Achievement Award honoree," she said with a straight face. "Not only was my grandmother her mother, she is the grandmother to my alleged daughter."
Fisher then cuts to the chase. "Actually, she's been more than a mother to me," she said as the camera pans to Reynolds in the audience. "Not much. But definitely more." This more includes being an "unsolicited stylist, an interior decorator, and a marriage counselor." This intro may sound more like a roast, but Fisher's jokes revealed the truth of her mother, who would give anyone the shirt off her back "if Vivien Leigh hadn't once worn it in Gone With The Wind."
Reynolds was Hollywood royalty, and Fisher admitted that it was hard having a mom who everyone loved as if she was their own. It's why all Reynolds' unwelcome advice was actually very much welcomed. She knew she was the only one getting it — to both her chagrin and the detriment of her sanity — and it meant something to her. It's why Fisher used her dedication to reveal things about her mom that only she knew.
As Fisher explained, her mom lived two lives: a public one and a private one. She ticked off Reynolds' achievements: a movie star, recording artist, television actor, nightclub entertainer, Broadway performer, best selling author, dance studio owner, and a Hollywood preservationist. But the accomplishment Fisher saved for last said the most about the kind of person her mom was.
Reynolds was the co-founder of the Thalians, a group that raises money for mental health issues. Fisher joked that a small portion of the millions the Thalians had raised was allocated just for her. The crowd laughed, but it's clear that Reynolds never thought Fisher's struggle with mental illness was a joke, and her daughter appreciated it.
It's also the achievement that best shows the bond Reynolds and her daughter Fisher shared. Sure, they were both Hollywood stars who struggled in a business that wanted to pigeonhole them, but their familial bond was re-shaped by Fisher's struggle with bipolar disorder, which she was diagnosed with in 1985.
Both Fisher and Reynolds, who weren't just mother and daughter but neighbors too, would admit over the years that their relationship was a complicated one that included a decade of estrangement. But, in a 2011 joint interview with Oprah, Reynolds spoke about how Fisher's struggles with her mental health would bring them together:
My lowest point in Carrie and my relationship was probably when we discovered that she was ill, or that she had this mental health problem, and that it was going to be with her forever. That was very hard. How is she going to get along in life? How can I help her in life? All I could do is love her, and always shall.
Reynolds would become Fisher's rock during the most difficult time of her life, and this wasn't unappreciated. Fisher talked to NPR's Terry Gross earlier this year about how much she admired her mother's strength and compassion, but admitted she could be a pain in the ass. It conveyed the way most children feel about their parents, through it all, the admiration wins out.
"There’s very few women from her generation who worked like that, who just kept a career going all her life, and raised children, and had horrible relationships, and lost all her money, and got it back again," Fisher told Gross. "I mean, she’s had an amazing life, and she’s someone to admire."
It's a sentiment Fisher repeated in her SAG dedication to her mom, calling Reynolds' Oscar nominated role in the Unsinkable Molly Brown her favorite. "Like Molly Brown, she's been down, but never ever out." And, honestly, Reynolds always made sure her daughter never was either. They will both be deeply missed.