The showbiz world was left reeling in December 2016 when Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher passed away within 24 hours of each other. The mother-daughter duo had been inseparable during their final years, and the memorial to the pair proves that their bond remains just as strong in death.
Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1932, Debbie Reynolds shot to fame in 1950’s Three Little Words; then, two years later, she proved her talent in the classic Singin’ in the Rain. Reynolds went on to pick up Golden Globe and Oscar nods for Bundle of Joy and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, respectively, and would also appear in the likes of The Singing Nun, Mother and In & Out.
But Reynolds’ talents extended beyond acting: she scored a U.S. number one single with a track from her 1957 movie Tammy and the Bachelor, for instance. And she was also a shrewd businesswoman, with a hotel in Las Vegas and a dance studio just two of her many ventures.
Plus, of course, Reynolds was also known as the mother of another much-loved actress, Carrie Fisher. Born in Burbank, California, in 1956, Fisher became an instant screen icon when she played Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy. Some of her other box-office successes included The Blues Brothers, The ’Burbs, Soapdish and The Women.
But like her mother, Fisher was also far more than just an actress. She penned a number of semi-autobiographical novels, for instance – one of which, Postcards from the Edge, was adapted into a film. She also recorded an Emmy-winning one-woman show and helped develop screenplays for Hook, Sister Act and The Wedding Singer. Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, is a screen star, too, being most notable for her role in TV series Scream Queens.
Yet while Reynolds and Fisher may have appeared cordial together in later life, their bond had previously been fractious. Fisher seemed to admit as much in Postcards from the Edge and her 2008 autobiographical work Wishful Drinking. And both parties were willing to reveal all in interviews, too.
In fact, in 2011 Reynolds and Fisher even appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss their relationship. There, Reynolds talked about how hard it was to watch her daughter turning into a wild child. Fisher had famously begun experimenting with drugs in her early teens and at the age of 28 had endured the first of many stints in rehab.
Meanwhile, Fisher revealed how difficult it was growing up as the daughter of a screen icon. “We had a fairly volatile relationship earlier on in my 20s,” she said. “I didn’t want to be around her. I did not want to be Debbie Reynolds’ daughter.” In fact, the pair subsequently went ten years without speaking, an estrangement Reynolds described as “heartbreaking.”
But over time, the pair’s relationship healed. And Reynolds would tell Winfrey, “Carrie and I have finally found happiness. I admire her strength and survival [and] that she is alive, that she has chosen to make it. I always feel, as a mother does, that I protect her.”
Perhaps, then, Reynolds and Fisher’s reconciliation made the circumstances of their deaths all the more poignant. Fisher’s passing was the first to send shockwaves around the world when the actress died on December 27, 2016. Four days previously, she’d taken ill while on a plane traveling from London to Los Angeles.
Then, just 24 hours after Fisher’s death, Reynolds suffered a stroke and was rushed to LA’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The 84-year-old died shortly afterwards. Reynolds’ son Todd later revealed that Fisher’s death had deeply affected his mother and ultimately contributed to her passing.
In fact, according to Todd, Reynolds said something prescient after hearing of her daughter’s death: she had said, heartbreakingly, “I want to be with Carrie.” And so, while speaking to ABC’s 20/20 just days after the double tragedy, Todd said that his mother “didn’t die of a broken heart”; rather, she “just left to be with Carrie.” He added, “Within 15 minutes, [Reynolds] faded out, and within 30 minutes she technically was gone.”
Todd also revealed that he and his family take solace from the fact that, in death, Reynolds and Fisher remain so close. He told 20/20, “We’re broken-hearted, those of us that are left behind. We also are happy that they’re together. It’s horrible, it’s beautiful, it’s magical they are together, it’s beyond words, it’s beyond understanding.”
The week after Reynolds and Fisher’s deaths, meanwhile, they were given a joint funeral service at Hollywood Hills’ Forest Lawn Memorial Park. And while the former was buried and the latter cremated, even in death the mother-daughter duo found a unique way to be with each other.
That’s because Fisher’s ashes were reportedly stored inside a large Prozac pill and buried alongside her mother. And rather than having two individual tombstones, the pair share one. The huge marble headstone features both Reynolds’ and Fisher’s respective birth and death dates and boasts a large statue of two figures locked in each other’s arms.
The Forest Lawn Cemetery memorial was unveiled to the public six months after the pair’s deaths, after which fans duly flocked to the site to pay their respects. “May the force be with you always” read a tribute left by one mourner, referencing Fisher’s role in Star Wars.
And two months previously, a public service for the pair had been staged at the same cemetery and streamed live online. Organizer Todd told those attending that “it was better late than never” to commemorate his mother and sister. “You are all [their] people – not just [their] extended family, but [their] close friends and fans,” he said.
However, in 2017 Todd told People that he believes his mother would have been irritated at first by his plans. He explained, “I did have instructions – not having to do with Carrie – essentially saying, ‘Oh, don’t make any big thing of it. Just stick me over here in the hole, have me cremated… and that’s the end of it.’”
Ultimately, though, Todd feels that his mother would have appreciated his efforts. He added to People, “I know that when she would have seen the response from her fans, she would have given me permission to do what I did. Because I know she would have wanted them connected and wanted them to have their moments with her, because she lived her life that way.”
And Todd isn’t finished with celebrating his famous mother and sister just yet; he plans to build a museum honoring Reynolds and Fisher’s achievements in Hollywood, too. Furthermore, in accordance with Reynolds’ wishes, Todd also auctioned off some of the pair’s personal film memorabilia in September 2017.