Dancers, Dan Aykroyd and Star Wars' R2-D2 were among those who took the stage at Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher's public memorial service, held Saturday afternoon at Los Angeles' Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills.
"Better late than never, as they say," said Todd Fisher, Reynolds' son and Carrie Fisher's brother, of the service for the women who passed in December. Equipped with smiles and punchlines, he explained to attendees that the public event "is a show and not a memorial because my mother didn't like memorials and funerals."
Even more so, the service was meant to be a celebration of the women's legacies both on and off the screen. "You are all her people - not just her extended family, but her close friends and fans," Todd Fisher said of the "living room" experience. "We would be sharing these same kinds of films and photographs, telling the same stories. … You're gonna see a lot of things you've never, ever seen before."
The celebration included montages - set to music by Star Wars composer John Williams - that highlighted each woman's storied film career, as well as intimate family photos, interview footage and their humanitarian work.
Fisher's former beau Dan Aykroyd took the podium to recall their friendship. "I once saved her life, applying the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a Brussel sprout, and if I had been with our beloved showboat, I might have been able to save her again," he said. "I know these women will have a song for us when we arrive at the crossing. After all, we're only seconds behind."
Reynolds' longtime pal Ruta Lee also expanded on Reynolds' humanitarian efforts toward helping veterans and those with mental-health issues, especially her work in establishing The Thalians. "She was, without a doubt, the most generous human being," said Lee. "She gave her heart to everything." Lee then sang the standards "I'm Glad There Is You (In This World of Ordinary People)," "I'll Be Seeing You" and "You'll Never Know" and led attendees in a standing ovation for Reynolds and Fisher "for a life well lived, a job well done."
Though tearful at times, the tone of the 90-minute ceremony was that of a joyful celebration. Star Wars' R2-D2 even came onstage for a few beeps.
Todd Fisher began the event with his own remarks. "There were no finer people that I had ever known than my mother and my sister," he said, adding that neither Carrie Fisher nor Reynolds ever turned away a fan. He also noted that his sister's writing room and Reynolds' living room will be preserved in a museum, "so you can see where they held court," and recommended HBO's Bright Lights documentary as "an amazing legacy piece, in their own words, seeing them in their natural habitat. You get to experience what I've had to deal with my entire life - in a good way!"
Todd also recalled Reynolds' last day, during which she told him she wanted to be buried with Carrie. "She looked at me to ask for permission to leave, said she wanted to be with Carrie, closed her eyes and went to sleep," he shared. "It was a very peaceful exit that only my mother could've orchestrated. She was trained in Hollywood, where they teach you to make a great entrance and exit. … A beautiful exit."
The service at the Hall of Liberty was attended by over 1,200 people, including family members, close friends, fans and Fisher's beloved dog, Gary.
Among the family friends who paid tribute was Fisher's friend Gavin de Becker, who spoke emotionally on Carrie's "civilian" high school days - "We all were a peculiar subset of freak, we all loved words, and we used those words to love each other" - and her appreciation of her fans at screenings and conferences: "You were part of her life." He said of her legacy, "You were candid to the point of embarrassment, but by not being embarrassed, you showed us that we need not be ashamed."
An original song called "I'm Here to Let You Go" by family friend James Blunt debuted over a final photo montage, as well as footage of Reynolds' last performance, which was with Fisher and her daughter, Billie Lourd, their "pride and joy," said Todd.
The show also included performances by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles (highlighting Star Wars' Princess Leia as an icon), tap numbers highlighting the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studios and a color-guard tribute for Reynolds' humanitarian work for veterans. Costumes and memorabilia were on display throughout the venue, which accommodated guest overflow in the lobby and outside. Immediately after the service, fans were invited to pay tribute at Fisher and Reynolds' final resting place.
The joint appreciation takes place after the deaths of Fisher and Reynolds in late December, one day apart from each other. The public event follows a private joint memorial for the two that was attended by close family and friends, which took place on Jan. 5.