I love writing about brilliant, risk-taking, complicated women, and Carrie Fisher had those qualities—plus bracing honesty—in profusion. Few celebrities have confessed with as much witty, ferocious candor their self-acknowledged imperfections and serious challenges—in her case: the effects of bipolar disorder and inherited drug addiction. (And in the process of writing about them with such honesty, Carrie was a significant force in de-stigmatizing them.) But it is one thing to be amused by a woman’s proudly overshared rule-breaking (Carrie went off her medications and defied drug sobriety many times, and admitted it in highly amusing writings and interviews); it’s quite another to learn, as I did, how deeply vulnerable she could be.

As one of her longtime friends put it, behind the charisma that lit up every room she entered “Carrie was as fragile as a butterfly.” In her 20s, before she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, her mania-quelling use of Percoset (a balm typical of those with the disorder) once left her so weak that a male friend accompanying her to a movie had to carry her the whole way to the theater by piggyback. During the 1987 book tour of her highly praised Postcards from the Edge, the flinty wit, then freshly considered the Dorothy Parker of her time, spent many days in hotel rooms, nauseous with stage fright. That deep insecurity would never have been guessed by the fans who watched her speak with wry aplomb each evening.