What Stole Our Beloved Carrie Fisher Away?

paramedics responding to overdose

It’s been 40 years since Carrie Fisher took an indelible place in our hearts and our minds. That’s when the first Star War movie arrived in theaters and introduced us to Princess Leia. When that movie was filmed, she was just 19 years old and already immersed in drug use.

In her memoirs published last year, she told how she had been introduced to marijuana by her mother when she was just 13 and how her use was so heavy whenever she was not in front of the camera that she could hardly remember any off-screen events. For the next several years, she heavily abused alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. To this, she later added painkillers, sleeping pills and psychiatric medications like Prozac, Abilify and Lamictal.

Drug abuse is not a rarity in Hollywood. Some stars keep their drug use a secret. Others have public meltdowns that land them in rehab and so are unable to keep any secrets. Carrie had long been public about her drug abuse.

Carrie’s autopsy report on her death in December 2016, finally released with a full toxicology report in June 2017, shed detailed light on the way her toxic cocktail of drugs contributed to her death.

What Caused Her Death?

You can imagine how intensively every factor that could have been involved in her death was scrutinized. After all, she was an internationally-known actor. Even with this close examination, it was not possible to pin the blame on a single drug or single health condition.

So what happened to her?

She was flying with her assistant from London to Los Angeles on December 23rd, perhaps envisioning a pleasant Christmas with family members. Shortly after takeoff, she fell asleep and slept nearly all of the ten-hour flight. She had long suffered from sleep apnea, so she’d stop breathing for a period of time that could last for seconds or as long as a minute. She’d suddenly start breathing again with a snort or gasp.

As the plane approached Los Angeles, she could not be roused. Suddenly, she vomited profusely and slumped over in her seat, unresponsive. One of the passengers who was a registered nurse started CPR and kept it up for a half-hour until her heart began to beat again.

She was rushed to the hospital and taken to intensive care. Despite everything done to try to save her, she died from a cardiac arrest four days later. To make the matter even sadder, her grief-stricken mother, Debbie Reynolds, died the next day.

The Toxicology Report

The medical history portion of the autopsy report noted the past use of various illicit and prescription drugs including Prozac, Abilify and Lamictal as noted above. It was also noted that she had been taking oxycodone, which was not prescribed.

The tests showed some drugs in their active forms and some in the form of a metabolite—that means that the drug had been taken long enough in the past that the body had already broken it down into a form that could be more easily eliminated by the body.

Active form drugs:


Diphenhydramine (antihistamine and sleep aid)

Meperidine (Demerol, an opioid painkiller)


Ethanol (alcohol)



MDMA (also known as Ecstasy)


Other Health Conditions that Could Have Contributed?

The medical examiner notes the presence of mild heart disease and severe arthritis in neck and spine. No other significant health conditions were found. The 25-page autopsy report repeatedly commented on the impossibility of determining the role these drugs played in her death because there was no way of knowing how long ago they had been consumed or if she was suffering any symptoms of overdose because she had been asleep for many hours. Just the drug levels in her body alone were not enough information to make a determination.

The final statement of the cause of death was “atherosclerotic heart disease, drug use.”

With the breathing problems Ms. Fisher had experienced for years, it was unwise for her to have so many drugs in her body with the side effect of suppressing one’s breathing.

The following drugs all list breathing difficulties as side effects: Methadone, heroin, meperidine, Prozac, diphenhydramine, alcohol.

Long-Term Drug Use Has its Own Dangers

Her death points out the health risks of long-term drug use. When illicit drugs are being used or prescription drugs are taken without a medical need, the right thing to do is get a person help to get sober. For more than 50 years, the Narconon drug rehab program has helped tens of thousands of people work their way back to sobriety.

Narconon Ojai specializes in assisting artists, performers and all kinds of professionals to return to their full, sober potential through lasting recovery. When you or someone you care about needs help recovering their sobriety, give us a call. We can help.


Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.