It’s been a debilitating year for celebrity deaths. In 2016, we’ve had the misfortune of losing countless greats—Prince, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, and George Michael, to name just a few. In the age of social media, these deaths reverberate like never before, as fans worldwide connect via Twitter testaments and Facebook obituaries.
With mourning elevated to this massive scale, recently deceased celebrities take on a new level of symbolic meaning. Carrie Fisher, who passed away on Tuesday morning at the age of 60, is a prime example. Fisher rose to fame as Star Wars’ iconic Princess Leia but has come to represent more than the sum of her incredible parts. While friends, family, and fans mourn the loss of a singular human being—an honest, funny, intelligent woman who bowed to no man or monster—they also grieve for everything she represented. At this very moment, it’s hard not to read into the death of a rebel Princess, a feminist icon who overthrew a fascist regime on film. Simultaneously, there’s the urge to lump all of these deaths together into one larger statement on 2016, deeming this year too terrible and toxic for some of our purest pop culture icons. There’s a sense that we no longer deserve the Carrie Fishers of the world—despite the fact that we need heroes like her, now more than ever.
When someone dies, every mundane thing they’ve touched turns extraordinary. Across timelines and Twitter feeds, we’ve pored over Fisher’s quotes, combing for the most heartrending and applicable. One particularly popular soundbite, in which the star joked that she wanted it reported after her death that “I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra,” became strangely poignant. After re-reading all the interviews and scrolling through each and every red carpet picture, it makes sense that we would turn our attention to Fisher’s nearest and dearest. And when it comes to sheer proximity, not to mention loyalty, no one can compare to Fisher’s French bulldog Gary, her sidekick and constant companion.
Gary first rose to fame during the Star Wars: The Force Awakens press tour, quickly stealing the spotlight. The French bulldog appeared at almost every press junket for the long-awaited film, including the premiere. According to Fisher, Gary gave his mom’s movie a rave review—“His tongue wasn’t out of his mouth before he saw the movie. It’ll happen to everyone,” Carrie quipped, referencing Gary’s unique smile. “Worth it, though! That’s how good it is. You won’t care that your tongue is out of your mouth.”
In a now-iconic Good Morning America interview with Fisher, Gary became the first guest to fall asleep during the show. Host Amy Robach deemed Gary’s appearance “one of the most entertaining interviews of all time.” Viral fame and critical acclaim came quickly for Gary, with myriad fan pages and listicles dedicated to the “national treasure.” In addition to visiting the White House and attending countless movie premieres, Gary was the first dog to walk the Cannes red carpet. Of course, his most touching claim to fame was as a calming presence for his owner, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 29. Fisher, who has been remarkably public about her mental illness, experimented with various treatments, including prescription medication and electroshock therapy. But in the last years of her life, Fisher turned to the untrained bulldog she found in a “very tragic” New York pet store.
In 2013, when Gary was just a year old, Fisher described their newfound co-dependence: “Gary is mental also. My mother says Gary is a hooligan. Gary is like my heart. Gary is very devoted to me and that calms me down. He’s anxious when he’s away from me.” Fisher eventually had Gary certified as a therapy dog, ensuring that he could fly with her on planes. While adapting to his new role as a travel companion, Gary struggled with his bladder control. “He’s good on airplanes, but we got off an 11 hour flight and he thought that the conveyor belt was outside, or he just couldn’t hold it, but the conveyor belt was electric and I just thought, Oh my god, we’re going to short circuit the whole thing.” Carrie recalled. “Can you imagine holding for 13 hours, L.A. to Germany? One time he went to the bathroom in the airplane bathroom."
Thanks to Gary’s penchant for jetsetting, a scrapbook’s worth of pictures were taken of the fashionable duo on red carpets preening for the cameras. While Fisher always possessed a distinctive style, these moments—like the time her green glasses matched Gary’s green rhinestone collar—rendered them both eccentric sartorial icons. Typically, a red carpet is a place where celebrities pout and pretend. There’s an expectation that you will present your most beautiful, photogenic self—which often means hiding under makeup and sucking in your stomach for the paparazzi. Fisher defied these unstated edicts. In sensible Oxfords, she walked her dog up and down the red carpet—and not just any dog, but a therapy dog, an omnipresent symbol of her struggle with mental health. Fisher was allergic to stupid conventions and to Hollywood bullshit, and fully dedicated to transparency. The visibility of her struggle and the honesty with which she articulated it helped to normalize her disease for fellow sufferers. Far from bowing to the stigma surrounding mental illness, Fisher was a fervent advocate, unashamed in everything that she did. Being unique was just Carrie and Gary’s style. Or as Fisher described her puppy, “he’s a true eccentric.”
Like all trendy dogs in 2016, Gary cultivated a strong social media following. In an interview earlier this year, Fisher opined that Insta-fame had gone to Gary’s head: “He’s changed… ‘Get me this, get me that.’ ‘No, I’m not going to sleep.’ Actually, he is shitty about eating food: ‘No, I don’t want sausage, I want bacon.’” With over 88,000 followers, the bulldog’s Instagram is a testament to his mother’s ability to stay relevant. With appearances on Sex and the City and 30 Rock, not to mention her evergreen geek chic status, Fisher was the rare pop culture icon who transcended her era. Naturally, she lent her celebrity to Gary’s Instagram, posing with the bulldog for date night pics and doubtlessly snapping his glamour shots.
Since Fisher’s passing, social media accounts in the puppy’s name have given way to some heartbreaking posts. After the actress was rushed to the hospital, a Twitter account claiming to be run by Gary and his handlers shared a photo of the bulldog staring out a window, captioned, “I'll be waiting right here mommy.” On Tuesday, the account Tweeted again, writing, “Saddest tweets to tweet. Mommy is gone. I love you @carrieffisher,” adding, “I was always by your side but best of all you were always by mine. #RIPCarrie.” It’s a sentiment that PETA echoed in their statement on Fisher’s passing, calling the star “an unabashed dog defender and PETA supporter.” They continued, “She may be best remembered for her iconic role as Princess Leia, but we fondly remember her for her devotion to her dog, Gary.” To Gary the bulldog, who will now go on to live with his beloved mommy’s daughter, Billie Lourd, our deepest condolences.