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Video: Carrie Fisher on drugs, fame, family

TODAY contributor
updated 12/10/2008 11:56:26 AM ET 2008-12-10T16:56:26

There are no skeletons in Carrie Fisher’s closet. She’s dragged them out and scattered them around the house for all to see, and she’ll tell you hilarious stories about every one of them — whether you ask her or not.

Most of those skeletons appear in her fifth book, “Wishful Drinking,” which is based on her one-woman stage show of the same name. On Wednesday, she came early to the TODAY show and stayed late, regaling both Matt Lauer and Al Roker with stories from a life as chaotic as any Hollywood has ever produced — on-screen or off.

Among her revelations: If she’d known “Star Wars” was going to be such a giga-hit, she never would have signed on for the role of Princess Leia; she’s a bipolar-disorder sufferer who found relief in electroconvulsive therapy; and when she started doing LSD and other drugs, her parents got Cary Grant to counsel her to stop.

Born in the fast lane
“I make light of stuff,” the 52-year-old actress and author told Lauer. “It’s better to get funny fast, or it’s just going to haunt you.”

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She’s got a lot of stuff to make light of. Fisher’s parents were singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, the Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston of their day. When Fisher was just a toddler, her father left Reynolds to become one of Elizabeth Taylor’s (the Angelina Jolie of her day) serial husbands. Thus she grew up with a firsthand view of what celebrity can do to people, and the tawdry side of Hollywood that fans rarely see.

“It doesn’t look that good, show business, when you’re around it,” she told Roker. “It’s like, ‘Don’t look at the man behind that curtain, the great and powerful Oz.’ I was always privy to the curtain stuff.”

“I saw the heartbreak of celebrity,” she told Lauer. And what she saw convinced her she didn’t want it: “Get me away from that.”

Too fat for Leia?
At the age of 19, Fisher was offered the role of Princess Leia, even though at 5-foot-1 and 105 pounds she was told she was too fat for the part. She took the role, but, she told Lauer, had she known how big the movie would be, “I would never have done it. All I did when I was really famous was wait for it to end.”

Slideshow: Feel the force She had one marriage, to singer Paul Simon. After they divorced, she had a relationship with agent Brian Lourd, by whom she had a daughter in 1992. But then Lourd left her — not for another woman, but for another man.

For solace Fisher turned to her mother, who cheered her up by saying, “We have all sorts of men in our family. We have horse thieves. We have one-man bands. This is our first homosexual!”

Lauer asked her to talk about when she started experimenting with drugs, and Fisher laughed at the image that conjured. “ ‘Experiment with drugs’ is hilarious,” she said. “I ran out of the lab with beakers.”

When she started doing LSD, Debbie Reynolds called a friend who had tried LSD under a doctor’s supervision. The man was Hollywood icon Cary Grant, who dutifully called Fisher.

“What did he say?” Lauer asked.

“Don’t eat acid,” Fisher said dryly.

When her father, Eddie Fisher later learned about his daughter’s drug use, he, too, called Grant, who called her a second time with the same advice.

Bipolar disorder
Fisher was equally funny talking about her manic depression, or bipolar disorder. When word of her condition got out, her mother objected, calling Fisher to tell her, “You’re not mentally ill, you’re manic-depressive.”

Video: Carrie Fisher on depression

Fisher said her disorder resisted all drugs and therapy, and she finally found relief through electroconvulsive therapy, commonly known as electroshock, which applies an electric current to the brain. Decades ago the therapy carried a lot of negative implications, but Fisher said psychiatrists have dialed the voltage down and patients don’t really go into convulsions. “I loved it because it worked,” she said.

However, getting treatments three days a week for several weeks, she added, leaves the patient with gaps in memory. As the brain recalibrates, everything comes back except for about four months, she explained.

When Lauer expressed amazement at her assertion that losing four months wasn’t a big deal, Fisher was blase. “What’s going to happen in four months at my age that’s not going to happen in another four months?”

Roker asked Fisher about the many child stars whose lives become train wrecks as they grow older.

“It’s hard, especially at a young age,” Fisher said. “They’re going through their adolescence in front of all of us — without their underwear on.”

Fisher said she is performing her stage show and planning another book, which will be her sixth. She said the only thing about aging that bothers her are the wrinkles she’s getting on her neck, which she covers with a scarf.

The problem, she explained to Roker, is that women’s bodies come with more fat than men’s. “We have two fat cells to your one to keep fetuses warm,” she said. “I say give us a blanket.”

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