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The tumultuous tale of Paul Simon’s wedding to Carrie Fisher


In 1976, Shelley Duvall entered a relationship with Paul Simon. Sadly, for the beleaguered accidental cinema star, she made the error of introducing the folk singer to her friend, Carrie Fisher. Almost immediately after that meeting, Simon’s bags were packed, and he was departing Duvall’s Hollywood home.  

In 1977, when the pair began dating, Fisher was a 21-year-old hopeful on the brink of international fame with the Star Wars film franchise that would go on to change the world forever. Simon had already played his part in bringing about cultural reform and now he was a 36-year-old suffering artistic obscurity. 

There may have been 15 years between the pair who sat at opposing ends of the spectrum of stardom, but immediately they felt a kinship that defied their differences. In her 2008 memoir, Wishful Drinking, the late great Fisher would reflect: “Years ago, there were tribes that roamed the earth, and every tribe had a magic person. Well, now, as you know, all the tribes have dispersed, but every so often you meet a magic person, and every so often, you meet someone from your tribe. Which is how I felt when I met Paul Simon.”

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Anyone who has read Kurt Vonnegut’s masterful Cats Cradle will identify that sentiment as Fisher recognising that Simon was a person who belonged in her ‘karass’. For those who haven’t read it, then allow Vonnegut’s prose to explain: “If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reason, that person may be a member of your karass.”

Simon and Fisher’s lives were about as tangled and logical as a dissolvable fishing net. Their off-and-on romance was one that by all means should’ve resided in a sitcom, but it didn’t, and the human comedy it underpins is far less laughable as result. Over the course of their 12-year relationship, their tempestuous romance went from dating to split, then to engaged, split once more, missed a step and ended up dishing out matrimony vows, divorced, then dating once again, until they finally acquiesced to a fate that seemed tragically predestined.

As Peter Ames Carlin, the author of Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon, writes: “Once they saw each other, no one else mattered to either of them. Carrie added velocity to [Paul’s] life, a kind of wild energy that often set him alight and sometimes made him scream.” Thus, we return once more to our noble sage, the late great Mr Vonnegut, who adds to his humorous karass musings: “We Bokononists believe that humanity is organised into teams, teams that do God’s Will without ever discovering what they’re doing… The karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries. It is as free-form as an amoeba.”

In short, there is no logical link behind the dispersed members of your tribe, and the fact Fisher and Simon were like two parts of a puzzle that belonged together but never quite tessellated nicely enough to withstand the tethered pulls of life itself is testimony to this. By all accounts, their relationship was always loving, but it was pitted by tragic circumstances and various puncturing potholes on memory lane.

When they first drifted apart after a passionate early romance Fisher was taking things fairly badly and this was exacerbated further by the sudden onslaught of fame. Her weight was down, and Blues Brothers co-star Dan Aykroyd was in her trailer ensuring she was eating correctly. “I inhaled a brussels sprout, and I started choking,” she recalled in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “He thought I was laughing, and then he saw that I was dying, and he did the Heimlich manoeuvre, and then like 10 minutes later he asked me to marry him, and I thought, ‘I better marry him. What if that happens again?’ We had rings, we got blood tests, the whole shot. But then I got back together with Paul Simon.”

This swaying drift and pull is something that recurred right throughout their relationship. Although Fisher had called off the rather impromptu proposal with Aykroyd to fall back into the arms of Simon, the second honeymoon period didn’t last too long and soon they were facing up to another breakup. Having been through so much with each other they were unsure whether they could face the sadness of parting head-on. Thus, they decided on a violent u-turn and promptly opted to get married. With wedding bells in the air, the romance miraculously blossomed once more, and their love was in full bloom. 

Carrie Fisher and Paul Simon dated from 1977. (Credit: Alamy)

However, even within this sweet rejuvenation of love, a few portents could be found. For instance, Simon penned the song ‘Hearts And Bones’ in the run-up to the wedding that seemed to foretell its sad demise. This end was warded off by the bliss of vows for quite some time as both Simon and Fisher stayed creatively busy. Even their in-fighting was brushed aside as Fisher recalled in her memoir: “We once had a fight (on our honeymoon) where I said, ‘Not only do I not like you, I don’t like you personally!’ We tried to keep the argument going after that but we were laughing too hard.”

However, beneath these Woody Allen-esque high jinks the same issues lingered under the surface and 11 months into their marriage they agreed that they were better off divorced. But amicable was never the right word to describe their breakups. Their ties were merely frayed but never finally cut and within a year of divorcing, they were dating once more. Simon had a son from a previous relationship with Peggy Harper and he began to see more and more of him with the stable presence of Fisher in the background or foreground whichever way you look at it. 

Always seeing the lighter side of things, it is at this point in her memoir, when Fisher poses a question: “Paul and I dated for six years, were married for two, divorced for one, and then we had good memories of each other and so what do you think we did?” As it happens, they went on a spiritual retreat to Brazil and in classic stand-up comedy fashion, the adage of a holiday testing the ties proved to be the moment they finally tore.

However, given the fact that this is Fisher and Simon we’re talking about, the classic vacation breakup was far from conventional. They went to see a spirit healer while over there to see whether they could reconcile their differences for good. Therein they embarked on an ayahuasca ceremony. For those who perhaps haven’t seen National Geographic, according to the ADF, ayahuasca is defined as: “A plant-based psychedelic. Psychedelics affect all the senses, altering a person’s thinking, sense of time and emotions. They can cause a person to hallucinate—seeing or hearing things that do not exist or are distorted.”

For Simon, this trip brought about the song ‘Spirit Voices’, for Fisher it brought about a vision of being pinned beneath Simon’s spinning brain and thereafter the final curtains for their fevered love affair. Even in this finality, there was a large silver lining upon an equally engulfing cloud, as Fisher told Rolling Stone: “It’s all a shame because he and I were very good together in ways that were good.” Despite all the darkness, it is apparent from Fisher’s biography that light always shone through and Simon was a presence who, despite the tempestuous surface, was a stable force underneath who helped to keep things steady as she sailed to the height of fame.