The fan attendees of the Marvelous Nerd Year's Eve convention in Dallas found themselves mourning a major loss in the midst of an otherwise raucous celebration.
Carrie Fisher, the iconic Hollywood actress best known for playing Princess Leia in the first three Star Wars films as well as director J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens, died last Tuesday after suffering a massive heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles. She was 60.
The con quickly put together a tribute panel last Saturday to honor the memory of Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds, who died the day after Fisher. The panel starred Peter Mayhew, the larger-than-life actor who lives in Dallas and played Han Solo's Wookiee companion Chewbacca in the Star Wars film, and his wife, Angie, as they shared their fondest memories of working with Fisher both on the set and while promoting the franchise.
"Knowing Carrie for almost 40 years ... she had so many different attitudes," Peter said before a costumed crowd of Star Wars fans in the hotel's Lone Star Ballroom. "She was one of the boys, and when I say one of the boys, I mean Mark [Hamill], Harrison [Ford], Carrie and Peter, the four people who were the center of Star Wars for most of the movies."
Angie says that George Lucas, the director of Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back who created the Star Wars universe, didn't cast Fisher in the role of the rebellious princess for her looks.
"Carrie was hired for her big personality," Angie said. "It's the same big personality we're celebrating today. If she'd been a Hollywood diva, nobody would care."
Peter remembered the first time he met Fisher on the set. She was getting her hair done in the iconic side-bun style that has become so synonymous with the character.
"She was sitting in a barber's chair [and they were] getting her down and she turned around and said, 'Oh, you must be Peter,'" Peter said.
Angie picked up the story and said that Peter was in the room when Fisher first learned what her character would be wearing on screen, confirming Fisher's hilarious story at an American Film Institute dinner in honor of Lucas' career that Princess Leia didn't wear a bra under her dress because "there's no underwear in space."
That clip from the dinner was shown during a retrospective that screened just before Peter and Angie took the stage. It also included Fisher's performances in movies such as The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally.
"Her account of that story is absolutely true," Angie said. "Peter was 15 feet away from them when that conversation happened."
The most touching memories, however, revolved around Fisher's personal life and her deep consideration for her fans. Fisher was unafraid to discuss and even make jokes about her struggles with addiction and mental illness in her books and shows including Postcards from the Edge and Wishful Drinking, the latter of which she turned into a one-woman show that later became an HBO special.
"[Wishful Drinking] goes into Carrie and all of her challenges and at the end of the day, she overcame them but she overcame them in public," Angie said. "That might be the most important story we have is that Carrie lived in public so that other people could take the good, the bad and the ugly from it and learn."
"The thing I loved her for is that she never shied away from the crazy," added Mark Walters, the panel's host and a friend of the Mayhews. "She embraced it."
"We owe her a debt of gratitude for that," Angie added.
Fisher also made every effort to show her appreciation for her fans, even years after the release of the first Star Wars film.
"Even at conventions and stuff, she was just the nicest and most caring person," said Lady Kate Cosplay of Conway, Arkansas, who attended the Saturday morning panel in costume. "So often you don't see that and for someone to be held in the limelight for so long, you'd think, no, she wouldn't want to be one with the fans, but she was. You'd always find her in some back room with people who she didn't even know their names. That's what really made her a celebrity worthy of admiration."
Peter said during the panel that Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia shared a lot of similarities but one stands out more than any other.
"She was a princess and a member of the family," Peter said.
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