Parting is such sweet sorrow — and perhaps that sentiment has never been better conveyed in a documentary than in HBO’s Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Carrie Fisher died at the age of 60 on December 28, and Debbie Reynolds one day later at 84, but their legacy will surely live on.
The Saturday, January 7, program featured a combination of home videos, archive footage and more recent interviews to provide a poignant peek into Carrie and Debbie’s complex mother-daughter relationship. Here are eight of Bright Lights‘ most emotional moments.
1. Debbie promises to stay on stage until she drops dead.
In one of the early scenes, Debbie was preparing to head off to one of her shows. Carrie walked over from her house (the two women lived adjacent to each other, with a big grassy hill between them) to help her mom prep, but also because she was admittedly nervous that Debbie was pushing herself too hard.
When Carrie asked Debbie if she was really up for the show, Debbie didn’t miss a beat. “I’m going to stay on stage until I drop dead,” she barked. Debbie also added, “Then I’m going to have myself stuffed, like Trigger, and I’m going to put me in a museum.” Debbie’s determination touched Carrie, who reasoned, “Age is horrible for all of us, but she falls from a greater height.”
2. Debbie chokes up hearing Carrie sing.
A lesser-known fact about Carrie was that she had an incredible singing voice (which Debbie attributes to Carrie’s father, singer Eddie Fisher). After video footage showed Debbie dragging Carrie up on stage to sing during one of Debbie’s shows, Debbie was in tears. “I love that voice,” she said. “Isn’t that a great voice? I wish I had it.” Carrie added, “The biggest thing I did that broke my mother’s heart was not do a nightclub act. My mother would say, ‘Do drugs, do whatever you want, but why don’t you sing?'”
3. Carrie shows off her quirky, cluttered house.
As home videos played, Carrie explained that she and brother Todd Fisher grew up “around” each other, not “with” each other because their house was so big and sterile. As a rebellion against this, Carrie’s house was packed with quirky décor (ranging from 19th-century paintings of little boys dressed up like girls, to a statue of a dog’s backside sticking out from an exterior wall).
Throughout the doc, Carrie could be seen wandering the halls of her home, which she compared to participating in a “scavenger hunt.” Each time she showed the cameras some new, weird item, her eyes lit up with joy.
4. Carrie brings her A-game for fans.
Unlike so many stars who can barely muster a smile when they have to pose for pictures with fans, Carrie genuinely embraced it. At an event packed with Star Wars enthusiasts, she posed for picture after picture — but she not only posed, she hugged her fans in the shots, snuggled with them, kicked her bare feet up in their faces and had a genuinely good time. “It’s nice,” she said of meeting fans. “They’re nice.”
5. Debbie discusses Carrie’s manic depression.
Reflecting on the rise of Carrie’s manic depression, both Carrie and her mother agreed it started creeping in during her early teenage years. “I went too fast. I was too much, and I was embarrassed of it,” Carrie reflected. “I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t know what it was.”
Debbie concurred: “No one knew what was going on with Carrie. So it’s a constant battle. It takes all of us to assure her that she is loved and that we’ll get her.” Debbie began to cry as she added, “That’s the hardest part.”
6. Carrie reminisces with Griffin Dunne.
Carrie’s longtime friend, Griffin Dunne, stopped by for a bit of reminiscing with Carrie, and revealed that he took her virginity. Apparently, she didn’t want to tell her boyfriend at the time that she was a virgin, so Griffin helped her out. “I took the pressure off your hymen. That’s what a real friend does,” he joked.
They were already laughing when Carrie added that in a bizarre twist, her mother had offered to “supervise” her through her first time. Griffin and Carrie laughed even more, and it was one of the real moments of joy in the film.
7. Todd recounts selling off Debbie’s Hollywood memorabilia collection.
Debbie wasn’t just a celebrity. She was a fan. And she spent a lot of time (and money) amassing an enormous collection of Hollywood memorabilia over the years with the intention of opening a museum. Unfortunately, the pieces didn’t end up coming together, and she was forced to auction it off (on three separate occasions).
They had no choice, however, because the collection was sinking Debbie financially. They had borrowed a lot of the money used to make the purchases, and when the museum didn’t come together, they basically couldn’t afford to keep it. Debbie agreed, but she was torn up about it. “Nobody wants to see their mother’s heart broken, and we saw it,” Todd said.
8. Carrie makes peace with her father.
Eddie didn’t say much during the film, but it was clear that he and Carrie had mended their relationship. (Carrie’s relationship with her dad was severed years earlier when he left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor.) Carrie explained how she navigated her way back to her dad. “I became his parent, and that was the way to have the relationship,” she said.
Sitting across from him, Carrie asked, “Was I always funny?” He said yes, and she then revealed that she tried to be funny for him because she thought if she was funny, then he would want to be around her all the time. “I wanted to be your best girl, and I had tough competition,” she said. “But I think I’m funnier than Elizabeth Taylor.”
Tell Us: What did you think of Bright Lights?
Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds aired on HBO Saturday, January 7, at 8 p.m. ET.
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