An awful lot of famous people have died this year. Of course, even more non-famous people have died this year, too. My father wasn't among any of them. He died in 2013.
In the past, when someone famous died, my dad and I would briefly reminisce about them. Interestingly, I hadn't really thought much about Dad in connection with all the deaths this year. I have no connection to Prince that involved my father (other than hiding Prince's music from Dad's ears), and the only thing about David Bowie that I connect with Dad was Bowie's Christmas duet with Bing Crosby (Dad enjoyed Bing and his movies, but I am certain Dad thought Bowie was a real weirdo).
Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, though, are different. Their deaths – on two consecutive days – have me wishing I could have another father-and-son someone-famous-we-both-appreciated-just-died conversations.
Dad took me to see Star Wars in 1977, and he told me that the actress who played Princess Leia was the daughter of a Hollywood legend and a famous singer. I was only nine years old, but Dad had already been cultivating in me a love of music and film, and a respect for the great artists who made them.
In fact, some time earlier in the 1970s, Dad took the family to see Singin' in the Rain (starring Debbie Reynolds) during a theatrical re-release; we'd also watch it – or at least parts of it – whenever it was shown on television. I grew to love not just musicals, but so many great Hollywood films of the 50s and 60s, and I knew the names of all the great stars. I think, though, that Singin' in the Rain was right up there among Dad's all-time favorites.
The original Star Wars trilogy carried me into my high school years, of course, but I also loved Carrie Fisher in movies like The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally. I developed an even greater respect for her as a person: her incredible sense of humor, her terrific writing, and, above all, her determined spirit. She was brutally honest for the sake of her sanity, and if we have been paying attention, for ours.
Like all great tragedies, musicals, comedies, and science fiction stories, the relationship between Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, which was played out on the public stage even before Carrie was born, has many lessons for us all. Our personal and cultural dysfunctions, our destructive tendencies, and our hopes and dreams and the love that binds and heals are all there reflecting back at us.
As saddened as I have been by the many deaths throughout this year, the news of Debbie Reynolds dying the day after her daughter has stirred a deep melancholy within me. Because of their importance in the shared experience of a father and son, I achingly long to talk with Dad about the passing of these two great personalities who often clashed terribly as mother and daughter.
Maybe Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, and Donald O'Connor are entertaining in the heavenly theatre right now with a rousing rendition of “Good Morning.” If so, I hope Dad's got a front row seat. Meanwhile, I've got a lot of movies I want to watch. Postcards from the Edge, anyone?