Posted in Behind the News

‘I want to be with Carrie’: Confirming the Reynolds and Fisher deaths

, by Lauren Easton

When actress Carrie Fisher died and her mother Debbie Reynolds passed a day later, AP was determined to confirm the news.

In a memo to staff, Editor at Large for Standards John Daniszewski detailed how two persistent reporters were first to get confirmation on the record:

When Carrie Fisher died, generations lamented the loss of their Princess Leia. But when actress Debbie Reynolds died a day later, the near-simultaneous passings of mother and daughter were seen worldwide as an epic tragedy.It was AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen who first reached Fisher’s brother, Todd, to confirm that his sister had been hospitalized. Days later, it was AP Television Writer Lynn Elber who first reached Todd Fisher to confirm the unthinkable — that his mother had died, as well.“She’s now with Carrie and we’re all heartbroken,” Fisher told Elber from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.“She said, ‘I want to be with Carrie,’” he said. “And then she was gone.”
Carrie Fisher kisses her mother, Debbie Reynolds, as they arrive at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, Sept. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Carrie Fisher originally fell ill on a flight from London to Los Angeles on Dec. 23. While others reporting her illness quoted anonymous sources, the AP was determined to confirm the news.
Entertainment writer Anthony McCartney shepherded the Carrie Fisher reporting, making calls to medical emergency and police sources. Cohen, meanwhile, obtained Todd Fisher’s cell number from a source; he told Cohen that his sister was “out of emergency” and stabilized. It was the first on-the-record confirmation of the actress’ hospitalization. She died Dec. 28.The next day, there were reports citing anonymous sources that Debbie Reynolds had been rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center — reports that McCartney confirmed with his own sources. Using the number that Cohen had secured, McCartney and Elber dialed Todd Fisher at the hospital at the same time. Perhaps because Elber had texted Fisher earlier, asking about his mother and reminding him that they had met when Reynolds auctioned off some of her memorabilia, Fisher talked with Elber.“He was tearful but gracious in discussing Reynolds’ final moments and her wish to be with her daughter,” Elber recalled.Fisher’s quote was picked up by many other news organizations, including The New York Times, which tweeted it and credited the AP in its tweet. The work of Cohen and Elber was reflected in the extraordinary usage of the Fisher and Reynolds stories.For strenuous efforts which paid off with crucial, on-the-record confirmations in a story of surpassing interest, Cohen and Elber win this week’s prize.