Gone, But Here


We’ve lost a lot of talented entertainers in 2016, from Alan Thicke to Zsa Zsa Gabor, from Muhammed Ali to David Bowie, from Prince to … well, too many more to mention. Earlier this week, Carrie Fisher died at the age of 60. Yesterday, her mother, Debbie Reynolds, passed away at age 84. Her son, Todd, suggested she died of a broken heart.

I first saw Carrie Fisher, of course, like most of us did—in Star Wars. I knew Debbie Reynolds primarily from her classic turn in Singin’ in the Rain. Both mother and daughter were just 19 when they took on their star-making roles. Both mother and daughter sometimes suffered off camera: Fisher documented her own struggles with addiction and mental illness in her raw, funny writing. Reynolds was married three times, and her split from Fisher’s father, Eddie Fisher, became the stuff of tabloid legend.

Their own relationship was complicated as well, and sometimes a bit of a mess. According to People magazine, mother and daughter barely spoke for nearly a decade. “I didn’t want to be around her,” Fisher admitted much later. “I did not want to be Debbie Reynolds’ daughter.” But they reconciled, and even as Fisher sometimes hilariously unpacked their complicated lives in print and in public (Postcards From the Edge, which Fisher wrote, was a semi-autobiographical story of their relationship), their love and affection became more obvious throughout the years. Check out this duet they performed on Oprah just five years ago. (Who knew that Princess Leia had a set of pipes like that?)


I shared some thoughts on Carrie Fisher on my Patheos blog earlier this week, but Debbie Reynolds’ passing hit me just as keenly. I watch Singin’ in the Rain every few years. It is, I think, a movie that showcases the best of what the movie industry can be. There, she’s eternally young, vibrant, electric. Like this:


That clip—that ability we have to pull a moment from the past and watch it all over again—is one of the beauties of entertainment. We talk about how we “lose” these celebrities, these people who we feel like we know and appreciate and, maybe in a strange sort of way, come to love. And yet, in a way, we don’t “lose” them at all. Thanks to their work, they’re with us still. Prince sings “Purple Rain” to us on Pandora. Muhammed Ali glares from grainy fight footage. A 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds dances with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Alive and ageless.

And I wonder, sometimes, whether in this way entertainment gives us a little, murky glimpse of what heaven will be like. No, not a heaven filled with song-and-dance numbers (though that might be fun, too), but a heaven where we all are at our best, whatever that best looks like—eternally young and eternally wise at once. The people God always meant for us to be.

“Good morning, good morning,” Debbie Reynolds sings in Singin’ in the Rain. In the movie, that morning is a symbol of sorts—the promise of sort of moviemaking, a new hope, a new beginning. That metaphorical sense of morning is an echo of what we read in the Bible, too—the day after an interminable light, when God wraps us in His arms and carries us home.

Weeping may tarry for the night,

but joy comes with the morning. (Psalms 30:5b, ESV)

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By CbinJ
The biggest loss for me this year was Justice Antonin Scalia. That one did hurt and more than just the feels, it hurt the country. Not yet have I ever felt the loss of a celebrity. I've never seen Star Wars. Debbie Reynolds looked familiar and, then, I realized it was just because I used to watch Disney Channel's Halloweetown every year. I wanted to know these people though, so, I looked them up on Wikipedia. And here are the thoughts that came to mind: 
As I read about the tangled lives of Debbie Reynolds and the Fishers, I couldn't help but think that these people lead awful lives! The shine from the silver screen blinds us to how terribly lost, broken, and sinful our Hollywood stars and starlets are. On an individual level, of course, we should pray for their well being and hope that Light and Truth touch them. But on cultural level, we need to realize that these broken, sinful people are the ones that tell Christians they are the bad guys, that tell Christians not to "judge". I just want to say that we have to stop allowing the people who contribute to the rot of our culture to define us and to lead so many astray. There are so many who think they can live like sin and still be rich, famous, and beautiful when in fact that almost only happens for people who are already rich, famous, and beautiful. 

I started by talking about the late great Antonin Scalia. Truly, his memory will live on. He was a Good, honorable, intelligent man. What he sowed will reap a good crop. The memory of these celebrities will be of their brokenness and will eventually fade forever. The seeds that some of these celebrities sowed, reap nothing and/ or poisonous fruit. It's a shame this is never truly discussed anymore.
By CbinJ
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Peggy Carter

I was sad to hear about Carrie Fisher despite only seeing her in the Star Wars movies, but I was even sadder to hear about Debbie Reynolds - and so soon after! I love Singing' in the Rain (my parents even got it for my birthday a couple years ago!) and Bundle of Joy as well as some of her other musicals.

This was an amazing post and I loved the ending as charitysplace said below. But, it's also really saddening to know that many of our beloved characters will not go to heaven, and that there won't be a happy eternity awaiting them, and the only thing we can realistically do to change that is to pray for them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Alan Young died, this year, and a week later Janet Waldo did too. Two actors who will be missed. 
charitysplace More than 1 year ago
This is really a beautiful post, and perhaps the most moving thing you've ever written -- I love that you tied the ending into eternity.

Celebrity deaths for me are a difficult thing -- because they're part of my life, but not truly; I know of them, and they entertain me, and their passing, depending on how much I "care" hits me in meaningful ways -- but I'll never know them as their family and loved ones do, and my grief is far "less" than theirs.

The last few years has seen a lot of celebrities die that meant something to me -- this year it was David Bowie (forever the Goblin King!) and Alan Rickman, who won over my little girl heart in "Sense & Sensibility," with that gentle performance and rich chocolate voice, and now Debbie Reynolds. The year before it was Terry Pratchett (who has made me laugh until I cried) and Leonard Nimoy (forever Spock!) and Shirley Temple (I watched those movies with my grandmothers, both of whom are also now gone) and Maureen O'Hara (an unforgettable redhead).

They're not here, but they're not forgotten, either.