The forgotten marriage of Carrie Fisher and Paul Simon: 11 months of screaming, depression, fame and drugs

A new documentary on the singer-songwriter’s personal and professional life revisits his romance with the ageless Princess Leia, a stormy relationship that lasted for years as they both dealt with mental illness. The couple finally broke up after a visit to a shaman

Carrie Fisher and Paul Simon
Paul Simon and Carrie Fisher, photographed on a beach in France in September 1983.Jean-Jacques LAPEYRONNIE (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
María Porcel

Hollywood was much smaller in the 1970s and 1980s. Not physically (although it was), but rather mentally and socially. Stars rubbed shoulders with each other, producers invited them over for house parties, directors partied with their actors. And romances blossomed and withered just as quickly as blockbusters. Hence, many may have forgotten a relationship that shocked the entertainment world at the time and brought together two unlikely celebrities: singer-songwriter Paul Simon, one half of Simon & Garfunkel, and actress Carrie Fisher, who died in December 2016, the penultimate in a saga of actors, divorces and tragedies. The two were together for years, culminating in a marriage that barely lasted 11 months, a period about which Simon has spoken recently.

In late March, the U.S. network MGM+ released a documentary called In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon (which can also be seen on Amazon Prime Video) in which the 82-year-old musician tells his personal and professional adventures. Produced and directed by Alex Gibney (who won an Oscar in 2008 for Taxi to the Dark Side, about the U.S. Army’s torture methods, and was nominated two years earlier for Enron: The smartest guys in the room, about the energy company’s fraud), the two-part documentary features Paul and his entourage recalling a good part of his professional career and his personal life, including the breakup of his friendship with Art Garfunkel in the mid-1970s after releasing Bridge over Troubled Water, his recent hearing loss and, of course, his love life, where Carrie Fisher comes into the picture.

“In the middle of the reunion tour [with Art Garfunkel], I got married. I married Carrie Fisher,” Simon recalls in the footage. Everything about their romance was as chaotic as that statement implies. The couple met in the late 1970s, and by the 1980s they were both big stars. But although he was the author of the famous Mrs. Robinson and 15 years older than her, by then it was difficult to surpass the fame of Fisher, who had become the eternal Princess Leia of Star Wars in 1977. Fisher had also had a difficult childhood. Her parents were singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, the star of Singin’ in the Rain. The couple had a media-friendly marriage from 1955 until 1959, when Fisher left Reynolds (and their two children, Carrie and Todd) for the woman who was his wife’s best friend, Elizabeth Taylor. They were close. Reynolds had been a bridesmaid at Taylor’s wedding to her third husband, film producer Mike Todd (and in fact named her son Todd after him), and the violet-eyed star had just been widowed after his death in a plane crash just a year after they were married. Her parents’ divorce and her early fame caused Carrie to have a difficult childhood and adolescence, during which she consumed drugs, alcohol and medication from the age of 13 onward, including 30 opioid pills a day. “Drugs made me feel more normal,” she said in an interview with a psychology magazine in 2001.

The Fisher-Simon relationship was born of passion, and the two clung to each other tightly as two people with emotional difficulties plagued by depression; hers was particularly severe. As writer Peter Ames Carlin recounted in his 2016 biography of the singer Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon, from the moment they met, Simon and Fisher quickly connected and soon moved into an apartment next to Central Park, in New York, where they ended up getting married. They would have intense fights where they would scream at the top of their lungs at each other, after which they would end up laughing their heads off together. “Carrie added velocity to [Paul’s] life, a kind of wild energy that often set him alight and sometimes made him scream,” Carlin said at the time of their relationship, which was full of ups and downs. According to the author, the actress came home loaded with medicines and pills, and he was “ashamed of her wild moods and indulgences, suddenly convinced she had neither the brains nor the maturity to keep up with her older genius boyfriend.” But then he would think that breaking up would be too difficult and they would stay together, laughing until the next fight: “He loved her, with a desperation that could frighten him.”

Paul Simon and Carrie Fisher at their wedding, held in the singer's New York apartment, on August 16, 1983.
Paul Simon and Carrie Fisher at their wedding, held in the singer's New York apartment, on August 16, 1983.Ron Galella (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)

That complicated relationship with fame and substances did not fit in with Paul Simon’s life, which was much more conventional. The New Jersey singer explains in the new documentary that “Carrie was much more show business oriented,” and that “she was used to a lot of press and things like that.” Simon notes that “it wasn’t intimidating or anything. She knew how to manipulate it and make it work for her. She was really good at it, and I wasn’t.”

As producer Lorne Michaels (the creator of the famous comedy show Saturday Night Live), who was Simon’s best man at the couple’s August 1983 wedding, recounts in the documentary, everything in their relationship had an extravagant point that they always wanted to go beyond. “For the engagement, we went to Greece. Paul chartered a boat. I was seasick for three days — at the rail, praying for death. Other than that, it was a really fun time, and for the honeymoon, we went up to Egypt, went up the Nile,” he recalls, as quoted in People. In addition, Michaels observes that “there were lots of things that were remarkable about the time, but also it was two people at career peaks, and that’s always complicated. All of it was kind of a whirlwind. Carrie was in a complete fame bubble because of Star Wars.

In her 2016 memoir, Wishful Drinking, Fisher wrote that marriages were not her thing, that she could be a fun and great girlfriend but not a good wife. Still, for years, she helped Simon raise his eldest son, Harper, the fruit of the musician’s first marriage to Peggy Harper, whom he married in 1969 and divorced in 1975. Harper, now 51, tried to make a career in music, although he never succeeded. During his youth he battled depression as well as several addictions (to alcohol, marijuana and LSD as a teenager; and then to heroin and morphine), and Fisher was always by his side during his recovery.

Carrie Fisher and Paul Simon at a party in London in May 1978.
Carrie Fisher and Paul Simon at a party in London in May 1978.Tom Wargacki (WireImage)

Paul Simon himself discusses the difficulties of being married in this documentary. “I mean, what was I thinking? Certainly not thinking about life, you know, that you actually, like, have to stop,” he says. “Marriage is very… it’s a hard thing to do. You have to concentrate on — not everything can happen at once, not everything is a media event. All types of mistakes on top of mistakes on top of mistakes... I realized… I could exhaust myself from emotional upheaval.” Carrie Fisher said something very similar in her celebrated biography, when asked if her brief marriage was a “mistake,” she responded affirmatively. “Well, because I think, if you look at me, at the most, you can think I’m an interesting girlfriend. But a wife? I think you’re going to be disappointed,” she said with her trademark self-deprecating humor. “Poor Paul. He had to put up with a lot with me. I think ultimately, I fell into the heading ‘good anecdote, bad reality.’ I was really good for material, but when it came to day-to-day living, I was a little more than he could take.”

The couple separated in July 1984, after less than a year of marriage. But that did not mean the end of their relationship, because they dated on and off for another 12 years. The end came on a trip to the Amazon in Brazil, when a shaman prepared a psychedelic plant-based concoction for them; after taking it, Simon fell asleep on Fisher’s lap, and she then had a vision that he controlled her too much and therefore she should end their relationship. And that put an end to their long romance, although they remained good friends. In 1992 Simon married Texan singer-songwriter Edie Brickell, with whom he has three children, Adrian, Lulu and Gabriel; they are still together today. In 1991 Carrie Fisher began dating agent Bryan Lourd, with whom she had her only daughter, Billie. They never married but were together until 1994, when he left her for businessman Bruce Bozzie, whom Lourd married in 2006.

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