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)