Carrie Fisher meant different things to different people: Daughter of Hollywood royalty. Charming raconteur. Brilliant author. Ruthlessly honest chronicler of her own struggles. Most iconic film heroine of all time. All of the above.
But to daughter Billie Lourd, she was Mom, or Momby—and Fisher considered her only child her greatest-ever production. Her "most extraordinary creation."
"To my DNA jackpot—my daughter, Billie," reads the dedication in Fisher's 2008 memoir Wishful Drinking. "For all you are and all you will be. I want to be like you when I grow up." And in the acknowledgments of her final book, 2016's The Princess Diarist, Fisher wrote, "For Billie—for turning out better than I could deserve or imagine. But please get a housekeeper. Vegas will always be there."
Lourd gave the self-deprecating star a new lease on life when she was born in 1992, and they were thick as enviously clever thieves until Fisher died almost three years ago. She was only 60, had just been all over the world promoting her latest book and was fresh from shooting Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It was the most unwelcome twist she could've thrown at her legions of fans after a career built on never failing to surprise.
Only adding to the surreality of the whole thing was the death of her mother, screen legend Debbie Reynolds, the next day.
"I've always kind of lived in their shadows, and now is the first time in my life when I get to own my life and stand on my own," Lourd said in 2016, talking to American Horror Story co-star Sarah Paulson for Town & Country. "I love being my mother's daughter, and it's something I always will be, but now I get to be just Billie."
She also revealed that she was, if not the only, then definitely one of the few people whom Fisher would agree to tone it down for when it came to publicly digging into their tumultuous family history. Fisher's close yet complicated relationship with Reynolds, which weathered a long estrangement to come back quirkier and closer than ever on the other side, was basically part of the Hollywood firmament for 40 years.
"Debbie did it to her, so anytime I came up to her and said, 'Please tone this down,' she would, because she went through it with Debbie and knew how hard it was," Lourd recalled. "Now, looking back and watching her interviews, I try to model what I do after her. She was so good at it. She would get so annoyed with me if I ever did a fake interview. She'd say, 'Tell the real story.'"
Part of the real story was that Debbie Reynolds couldn't wait to have a grandchild and she hoped that becoming a mom would do for Carrie what it had done for her—given her the best reason yet to survive. Reynolds, of course, has her own place in the history books—as an actress and entertainer, and as the sweet-faced star left behind when husband Eddie Fisher jumped ship to become Elizabeth Taylor's fourth husband.
Reynolds, though blindsided, tended to approach that rough time in her life with humor, even comparing herself to the infamously jilted Jennifer Aniston later in life. She and Taylor ended up becoming friends, and Fisher wrote the 2001 comedy These Old Broads for them.
Carrie was 2 and her brother, Todd Fisher, was barely a year old when their parents divorced. Suffice it to say, Fisher's relationship with her father was all over the place, but ultimately she was able to view the situation through her signature lens.
"True to form, my father continued to neglect his parental duties in death as he did in life," she wrote in Wishful Drinking (she later dedicated the 2010 HBO special adapted from her one-woman Broadway show of the same name to Eddie, who died in 2010). "No last will and testament was found. There was a piano, an assortment of sheet music, a closet full of clothes, a watch and the one item ultimately worth coveting: my dad's diamond pinky ring that he had worn for as long as any of us could remember."
In a whopping metaphor, the stone turned out to be fake.
"I loved my father," Fisher concluded. "The man was beyond fun to hang out with, appreciative, playful and eccentrically sweet. But this was also a man who—though he genuinely meant to give bona fide diamonds of only the finest color, cut, and clarity—ultimately was only able to offer cubic zirconium."
Fisher wrote that she was "probably rebounding" after the end of her brief marriage to Paul Simon in 1984 when she met talent agent Bryan Lourd.
"Bryan took such good care of me that I thought, 'this guy will make a good father. And I was right, he made a great father—and he still does."
Billie Catherine Lourd was born on July 17, 1992. Fisher recalled the birth announcement: "Someone's summered in my stomach / Someone's fallen through my legs / To make an infant omelet / Simply scramble sperm and eggs."
A year later, Bryan ended the relationship to be with another man.
"We'd loved Carrie and Bryan together," Todd Fisher wrote in his 2018 book My Girls: A Lifetime With Carrie and Debbie. "We'd loved how she thrived when she was with him. And we'd had much higher hopes for Billie than to be raised by two parents who weren't together, no matter how much both of her parents loved her."
In Wishful Drinking, Fisher fondly recalls Reynolds saying, "'You know, dear, we've had every sort of man in our family—we've had horse thieves and alcoholics and one-man bands—but this is our first homosexual!'"
Reynolds remembered things a bit more demurely in her own 2013 memoir Unsinkable, but she too described Bryan Lourd as a terrific father.
Right after Billie was born, Bryan was the one who first bathed her at the hospital. "No matter what Carrie went through with Billie's father after that," Reynolds wrote, "I'll always cherish the memory of him taking care of our little Billie so beautifully."
Fisher admitted to being "devastated," but her hospitalization a year later for manic depression had nothing to do with the breakup, she wrote.
"Imagine having a mood system that functions essentially like weather—independently of whatever's going on in your life," Fisher explained.
"It's a tribute to both Carrie and Bryan that after they split up they managed to keep the majority of their relationship focused on co-parenting Billie, the daughter they both cherished," Todd wrote. "There were many times when, for a variety of reasons, Carrie was unable to be the kind of loving, reliable mother Billie deserved, and Bryan was always happy to take over as her loving, reliable father."
Billie did remember her dad being the more domestically stable one.
"He gets home at the same time every day, and we eat dinner together, we do homework together, we watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and cry, and then go to sleep," she recalled to Paulson in Town & Country. "At Mom's it was like, 'Let's put Christmas lights in the palm trees at 2 a.m.'"
One of Fisher's go-to jokes in later years was about her talent at turning men gay, but she ultimately left it out of her Wishful Drinking show.
"I had a hard time with it in the beginning," Lourd said in T&C. "I was very protective of my dad and would stop her and be like, 'Can you take out that thing where you say, 'I turned him gay.' Can we not have that on Broadway?"
In a 2011 interview for the Mail Online, Fisher was asked why kept a photo of her ex's former boyfriend atop her piano.
"My daughter Billie asks me why I keep it there and I say, 'Because it's something I made it through,'" Fisher said. "It's a failure I learnt from. Also, it's funny. Hollywood weirdness at its best." (More peak weirdness: Fisher wrote in Wishful Drinking that Billie had a "flirtation" as a teenager with Rhys Tivey, grandson of Elizabeth Taylor and her third husband Mike Todd. "When they first met, they were trying to work out how it all fit together and if they were related in some way...I told them, 'You're related by scandal.'")
"Bryan's a good man in lots of ways," Fisher also said. "It took a while to adjust, but then we started going on vacations—Billie, me, Bryan and this guy he was seeing. That's how
much we loved her. I wanted Billie to see we could be friends, because I never had that with my own parents. I'm glad I got Billie a good dad; he's everything my father wasn't—including gay!"
Bryan Lourd married his longtime partner, restaurateur Bruce Bozzi, in October 2016 and they're also parents to daughter Ava.
"My dad got married a year ago and I have a 9-year-old little sister who's absolutely awesome," Billie, who admitted to being bummed about not having had any siblings, said in 2017. "She's kind of like my daughter, too."
In Wishful Drinking, Fisher called her then-teenage daughter, among other things, "incredible," "so pretty" and a "great writer," and remembered her as a "very verbal and watchful child." And Billie saw a lot.
Reynolds, also processing the revelations in Wishful Drinking in addition to discussing her own life (she wrote four books), wrote in Unsinkable that Billie's love "anchors Carrie. It gives her strength. She and Billie work through everything and are in a great place."
The Singin' in the Rain star acknowledged being "thrilled" when Carrie got pregnant but also concerned for her at the same time, knowing she was off her antidepressants during her pregnancy. "It was a very brave and difficult thing for her to do," Reynolds wrote. "Having a baby is hard enough without all the mental changes Carrie went through."
The first years of motherhood were not easy for Fisher as she battled depression and her ongoing addiction issues. But as she herself put it, it was Billie who ultimately inspired her to keep her "wick lit."
When she started speaking out for the first time about being bipolar, Fisher told ABC News' Diane Sawyer in 2000, "Prior to having a child, I really did feel, it's my business if I wanted to stop my medications. I no longer feel that's so. It's a much easier decision if you have a child. You really don't want to be the person putting that look into anyone's eyes after awhile."
Even before she became a willing if wry regular at Star Wars conventions, figuring if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, Carrie perpetuated her own myth for her daughter's sake—to give the child more exciting, above-average opportunities for fun. She also took on travel writing, penning a series called "Travels With Billie," so they could go all over the place together.
"When Billie was four or five, I made personal appearances at every Disneyland on the planet," she wrote in The Princess Diarist. "(All she knew was that we didn't have to stand in lines and got to go on the Matterhorn three times and have lunch with Dumbo!")
Fisher eventually showed her daughter Star Wars when she was 5 "and her first reaction was that it was too loud. Also her second and third."
But knowing firsthand what it was like to be paraded around as a star's daughter, Fisher pointedly did not do that with her own child. Billie eventually couldn't help but catch on to the fact that her mother was a major deal, and that her mother before her was a major deal (not to mention that Billie's father holds the keys to many a castle door in Hollywood), but she was thoroughly encouraged to not take that road herself.
"My whole life, they said, 'Do not act. You need to get a college degree,'" Lourd, who started at Wesleyan and then graduated from NYU, told Interview in 2015. "I went to performing arts camp, secretly taking classes—I got the lead in the musical, and my dad was like, 'Wait, I thought you were going here for music and knitting.'"
That being said, Lourd's first movie was 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with her mom's encouragement, after which she was supported 100 percent in her endeavors.
"J.J. Abrams called and said they couldn't find anybody for this one part and would I come in and read for it," Billie said in T&C. "I didn't get the part [of Rey, which went to Daisy Ridley], but I got another extra part with three lines. The thing is, I was bizarrely comfortable on set. My mother would pull me aside and be like, 'It's weird that you're so comfortable here. This is the most uncomfortable environment in the world. If you're comfortable here, you should do this.'"
Her big breakout role came after in Ryan Murphy's Fox show Scream Queens, after which she was a member of the Murphy troupe and has since been in American Horror Story: Cult and AHS: Apocalypse. She also reprised the character of Lieutenant Connix in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which came out last year, and will be in the as yet untitled Star Wars: Episode IX. She also has a role in Olivia Wilde's feature directorial debut, Booksmart, due out in 2019.
Lourd remembered the last words of blunt, no-nonsense encouragement her mom gave her on what unexpectedly turned out to be the last time she saw her in person.
"...This episode of Scream Queens was on, and it was a big episode for me," she recalled to Sarah Paulson. "I had tons of scenes, and I was so hard on myself about it—I hated how I looked, hated my performance. I was really frustrated. She told me, 'Come over right now. I want to watch this with you.' And she made me sit down and watch it, and she forced me to see the good parts. She was incredible like that. But she was really hard on me, saying, 'Shut up, you're great in this. Have faith in yourself. Be more confident.'"
Fisher remembered her daughter wanting, at around 13, to be a neurologist with a specialty in schizophrenia, and then a comic.
She advised Billie that she'd have to be a writer first, telling her, "'but don't worry, you have tons of material. Your mother is a manic-depressive drug addict, your father is gay, your grandmother tap-dances and your grandfather shot speed!'"
Billie thought that was hysterical, to which Carrie replied, "'Baby, the fact that you know that's funny is going to save your whole life.'"
So far, it has definitely proved to be a valuable life skill to have in the saddest of times.
"If life's not funny, then it's just true—and that would be unacceptable," Lourd said in Town & County, paraphrasing some key perspective passed down from her mother. "Even when she died, that was what got me through that whole thing. When Debbie died the next day, I could just picture [Carrie] saying, 'Well, she's upstaging me once again, of course—she had to.'"
In those first weeks and months after losing two of the most important people in her life, Billie laid pretty low, but in keeping with what she had observed her mother do time and time again, she didn't shy away from publicly addressing the hard truth about her mother's death.
When the official cause of death came back in June 2017 as sleep apnea and "other undetermined factors," Lourd said in a statement to People, "My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases.
"She talked about the shame that torments people and their families confronted by these diseases. I know my Mom, she'd want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles. Seek help, fight for government funding for mental health programs. Shame and those social stigmas are the enemies of progress to solutions and ultimately a cure. Love you Momby."
Lourd also poured herself into work (she'd love to write and direct one day) and, naturally, she's been keeping her mom close to her heart wherever she goes.
When The Last Jedi came out last year, she and her dad were in Norway to see the Northern Lights—which Fisher apparently had an "otherworldly obsession" with, but she never got to see them with her daughter.
"We journeyed to northern Norway to see if we might 'see the heavens lift up her dark skirts and flash her dazzling privates across [our] unworthy irises,'" Billie wrote on Instagram, quoting a piece Fisher wrote for Port magazine in 2013. "And she did."
Asked at the beginning of last year what her to-do list for 2018 entailed, it turned out she had an actual list.
"I'm a big list person," Lourd told The Hollywood Reporter. "I've got a list of things to work on in the new year but it all comes down to the basics of keep moving forward, stay positive and do more for other people. To put it simply."
This year, Lourd is starring in the latest American Horror Story installment, 1984, and playing a special role on Will & Grace—Grace's niece, making her the granddaughter of Grace's mom, who was played by Debbie Reynolds.
And on what would have been her Momby's 63rd birthday on Oct. 21, the American Horror Story: 1984 star shared a video of herself singing Tom Petty's "American Girl"—in a very nice bathroom.
"Not that I'm some kind of grief expert by any means, but on milestones (or whatever you want to call them) like this, I like to celebrate her by doing things that she loved to do. So here's a little video of me singing one of her favorite songs (American girl by Tom petty) in one of her favorite places (her bathtub of course). I'll probably have a pint of vanilla Haggen Dazs and a Coca Cola for dinner."
(Originally published Dec. 27, 2018, at 3 a.m. PT)