This was supposed to be a list of 10 songs that made me cry this year. But that got ditched in favor of paying tribute to George Michael. And just as I was putting the finishing touches on that, 2016 decided it wasn’t horrible and depressing enough, so it took Carrie Fisher, too.
Obviously George and Carrie are deserving of their own columns, but this year is an evil, hateful motherf*cker, and these two brilliantly human beings actually had a lot in common, so … Let me count the ways.
Both started young and made it big fast. As the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie had Hollywood blood. She scored her first movie role at 17, opposite Warren Beatty in Shampoo. Then she dropped out of Sarah Lawrence to do a movie called Star Wars. George was only 18 when he signed his first record contract, and he had No. 1 hits on both sides of the Atlantic before his 21st birthday.
Both became instant, irrefutable icons. It’s easy to say that when Carrie first tried on Princess Leia’s knobby, cinnamon-bun hairpiece, she couldn’t have possibly predicted she’d be Leia for the rest of her life. And when George slipped on that “Choose Life” T-shirt, he never could have guessed it would make him “the greatest pop star of the MTV era,” as Maura Johnston anointed him this week in The Guardian.
Both wished to be taken a little more seriously. After Return of the Jedi, Fisher turned into a best-selling novelist. After his massively successful solo debut Faith, Michael put out an album called Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 (making mixtape makers the world over shout, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”). He also disappeared from his videos, essentially begging us to view him as an artist, not a pinup. Of course, we could never unsee the cinnamon-bun hair or that “Choose Life” T-shirt, and eventually they both made peace with that.
Both had very public slips. Carrie’s history with drugs and mental illness are well-documented. (Google “Annie Leibovitz” and “Carrie Fisher.” See that Rolling Stone cover? The Empire Strikes Back cast is actually holding her up.) George had a series of well-publicized scrapes: arrests for public sex, car crashes, bouts with cannabis and crack, and jail time.
Both were unapologetic about it. After accidentally overdosing on prescription medication and sleeping pills, Carrie turned that experience into the autobiographical novel Postcards From the Edge, which she adapted into a great movie directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep. Months after being arrested in a Beverly Hills restroom, George released “Outside,” an unabashed ode to public sex. In the video, a men’s room morphs into a disco, complete with dancing cops and mirror-ball urinals. George and Carrie weren’t big on shame.
Both were heroes who saved lives. Aside from being Princess f*cking Leia, “a damsel who could handle her own distress,” as The New York Times said this week, Carrie’s ongoing work as a memoirist/humorist made her a role model for all misfits, from aged feminists to self-medicating overeaters and every underdog in between. George lived an imperfect life—“deeply, wonderfully, embarrassingly, profoundly human,” as writer Michael Andor Brodeur put it—an experience that mirrored an entire generation of gay men. We’re lucky to have lived our lives alongside theirs.