Fans celebrate lives of Carrie Fisher and mother Debbie Reynolds at joint memorial service

Under clear blue skies, hundreds of fans made the pilgrimage Saturday to Forest Lawn Memorial Park-Hollywood Hills’ Hall of Liberty to pay tribute to actress Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

"These were my girls," Todd Fisher, who organized the public memorial with his wife, told those who had gathered to honor the memory of his famous sister and mother.

Fisher shared some family stories with the audience and noted Reynold’s life-long love affair with show business, drawing laughs and tears from the audience.

“This entire thing I'm calling a show, not a memorial, because my mother… liked shows and parties,” he said. “So this show was really designed for you to be in our living room, as if we were all a big family, celebrating two amazing women.”

In the hours before the ceremony, hundreds of fans formed a long line outside the pavilion with many wearing wristbands that said "Debbie and Carrie forever in our hearts" and clutching programs imprinted with the quote, "Don't be afraid of death, be afraid of an un-lived life."

Some wore elegant dresses and suits while others donned “Star Wars” attire in tribute to what many consider Carrie Fisher’s biggest role as Princess Leia in the famous adventure film series. They shared opinions of their favorite movies and their admiration for the two women who struck them as ”genuinely lovely,” inspiring and "unapologetically themselves."

For the 1,200 or so who managed to get a seat inside the hall, the ceremony was a cherished slice of Hollywood history. Crystal Jackson drove from Arizona with her daughter Heather, and her 4-year-old and 2-year-old granddaughters, "to share this experience with so many other people who loved Debbie and Carrie, too."

"It feels like we're here to mourn — and to celebrate — a family member today. I mean, we all grew up with them," Heather Jackson said, looking around at all of those gathered in the hall. "We idolize them. Their relationship is like what my mother and I have."

"I hope they know how much they are loved," Kenneth Parkhurst, 43, said. He had driven down from Orangevale in the Sacramento area and arrived at the cemetery by 7 a.m. to ensure that he had a seat for the 1 p.m. ceremony.

Donning a black “Star Wars” cap, Parkhurst had patiently waited in line all morning, flipping through Fisher's most recent book, “The Princess Diarist.”

"She was more than just our princess, she was our ambassador," he said. "She would make you feel included in whatever you saw her in. You weren't just entertained, she made you feel like part of the club."

Fisher, 60, an actress and writer who starred as Princess Leia in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, died Dec. 27 after suffering a medical emergency days earlier aboard a flight from London.

Reynolds, 84, whose singing and dancing in "Singin' in the Rain" and other musicals turned her into America's sweetheart and an iconic box office star for years, died the following day.

Todd Fisher told media outlets at the time that his mother was under stress over the death of her daughter and suffered a stroke at her home. Reynolds told him she missed her daughter and wanted to be with her.

Close friends and family held a private funeral in January. Organizing a public ceremony for their many fans, Fisher said, was in keeping with how both women embraced the people who supported and adored them.

Saturday's memorial opened with a color guard and included a mournful R2-D2 robot, video segments commemorating both women's accomplishments and philanthropy, dance tributes by the Debbie Reynolds Studio as well as a performance by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles.

There was also music by "Star Wars" composer John Williams, and a new song written in honor of Fisher by British singer James Blunt that played over intimate family photo montages.

Many in attendance cried openly as the new song closed on its last line: "I'm here to let you know. I'm here to let you go." Blunt and Fisher had a long-running friendship. She was his son's godmother, and Blunt's hit "You're Beautiful" was written on the piano in Fisher's bathroom, her brother said. Blunt also recorded his album "Back to Bedlam" at her house, where he stayed when he was in L.A.

Allison Zahigian, 25, a filmmaker from Thousand Oaks, and her friend Kylie McMillan, 22, who flew in from Seattle, reminisced about growing up with "Singin’ in the Rain,” “Halloweentown" and all the books Fisher penned in her raw and honest style.

"She taught me to be unapologetically myself. And Debbie...," Zahigian said, looking down wistfully, "another woman who taught me that being normal is overrated."

The two friends got in line at 7:45 a.m. and spent the morning watching Fisher's one-woman show, “Wishful Drinking," on their cellphones. They wore sparkly necklaces and put glitter on each other's eyes.

"Carrie said it's more than fun, it's magic, and that'll make things start to happen," Zahigian explained. Beside her sat a glass Coke bottle covered in glitter paint and filled with fresh picked flowers.

After the service, both women stepped outside, admired the hilltop view of Los Angeles and joined other fans in a reflective walk to the Forest Lawn’s Courts of Remembrance, where Fisher and Reynolds were laid to rest next to each other.

rosanna.xia@latimes.com

Twitter: @RosannaXia

ALSO

Carrie Fisher's 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' scenes will not be changed

Obituary: Carrie Fisher, child of Hollywood who blazed a path as 'Star Wars' heroine, screenwriter and author, dies at 60

Obituary: Debbie Reynolds, who sang and danced to fame in ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ dies at 84


UPDATES:

6:25 p.m.: This story was updated with more comments from Todd Fisher.

4:40 p.m.: This story was updated with new details from the memorial.

3:25 p.m.: This story was updated with new details from the memorial.

This article was originally posted at 7:45 a.m.

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