Kirstie Alley, Actress on ‘Cheers’ and ‘Veronica’s Closet,’ Dies at 71
Kirstie Alley, the Emmy-winning comic actress known for her turns on Cheers, Veronica’s Closet and the three Look Who’s Talking films, has died. She was 71.
Alley died after a battle with cancer “only recently discovered,” her children True and Lillie Parker announced Monday, describing their mom as “incredible, fierce and loving.” A rep for Alley told The Hollywood Reporter that the type of cancer she had was colon cancer. No other details were immediately available.
“She was surrounded by her closest family and fought with great strength, leaving us with a certainty of her never-ending joy of living and whatever adventures lie ahead,” they said in a statement. “As iconic as she was on screen, she was an even more amazing mother and grandmother.”
They added that they were “grateful for the incredible team of doctors and nurses at Moffitt Cancer Center” in Tampa, Florida.
The bawdy Alley collected eight Emmy nominations during her career, the first five for playing bar manager Rebecca Howe on NBC’s Cheers after effectively taking over in 1987 for Shelley Long, who had quit the Boston-based series. She won in 1991 and worked on the show through its 1993 conclusion.
She then starred on NBC’s Veronica’s Closet as Veronica “Ronnie” Chase, the head of a lingerie company in New York City. Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, the show aired for three seasons, from September 1997 to December 2000.
She played the accountant Mollie Jensen, a single mother who has a baby (whose thoughts were voiced by Bruce Willis), opposite John Travolta in the hit comedy Look Who’s Talking (1989), directed by Amy Heckerling, then returned for sequels in 1990 and 1993.
The green-eyed, husky-voiced Alley landed a second Emmy in 1994 for her turn as a woman who insists on caring for her autistic son alone in the telefilm David’s Mother, and she was nominated again in 1997 for her performance in the Mario Puzo miniseries The Last Don.
In 2005, she played a fictionalized version of herself on Showtime’s Fat Actress (she was a spokesperson for Jenny Craig and had weight issues during her life.)
More recently, she starred on TV Land’s Kirstie in 2013-14 as a Broadway diva and was on the 2016 Fox show Scream Queens.
“‘Ignorance is bliss’ applies to me,” she said in 2013. “I want to try things that I haven’t done. Anything that sounds exciting, I’m in.”
Alley was born on Jan. 12, 1951, in Wichita, Kansas. Her father, Robert, owned a lumber company, and her mother, Lillian, was a homemaker. (In 1981, a car accident involving a drunk driver killed her mom and left her dad seriously injured.)
As a kid, she “was either on the swings brooding, ‘Why do people blink? Where is God? Why am I here?’ — I was very esoteric, I guess — or funny-crazy-wild,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of in-between. I’m still that way, I guess. Hot or cold. I’m always contemplating the universe.”
She graduated from Wichita Southeast High School in 1969, married her high school sweetheart, Bob Alley, in 1970 and spent two years at Kansas State University before coming to Los Angeles, where she appeared as a contestant on Match Game in 1979, winning about $6,000.
She played a Vulcan Starfleet officer in her first film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982), was a regular on the ABC series Masquerade in 1983-84 and portrayed a Playboy Club-era Gloria Steinem in the 1985 telefilm A Bunny’s Tale.
She then worked on the acclaimed miniseries North and South, Books 1 and 2 in 1985 and ’86 and starred opposite Mark Harmon in Summer School (1987).
When Long departed, the Cheers producers decided to return to the show’s original concept, where Sam Malone (Ted Danson) works for a woman, director and series co-creator James Burrows recalled in a 2003 interview.
“We told Jeff Greenberg our casting director we wanted a beautiful, tough-looking woman. And swear to God, the first words out of his mouth was, ‘Kirstie Alley,’” he said.
Her Rebecca starts out managing the bar for the corporation that bought Cheers from Sam, and she has lots of failed relationships with rich guys before she marries a plumber.
In 2010, she was the subject of the A&E reality series Kirstie Alley’s Big Life. The show chronicled her battle with weight and the launch of her weight-loss company.
Alley’s film résumé also included Shoot to Kill (1988), Madhouse (1990), Sibling Rivalry (1990), John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned (1995), Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (1997), For Richer or Poorer (1997) and Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999).
She competed twice on Dancing With the Stars and this year was on The Masked Singer as Baby Mammoth.
She wrote a memoir, The Art of Men (I Prefer Mine al Dente), published in 2012. She revealed that she fell in love with Patrick Swayze on North and South and with Travolta on the first Look Who’s Talking film even though she was married to her second husband, actor Parker Stevenson.
They were married from 1983 until their 1997 divorce and adopted True and Lillie. Survivors also include her grandson, Waylon.
In that 2013 interview, Alley said that “I would really like to win an Academy Award just to astonish myself. I don’t think I’ve ever played the role where I would say, ‘Oh, my God, you’re an amazing actress!’ That would prove that this wasn’t all just a joke.”
Dec. 6, 12: 56 p.m. This story has been updated to note that Alley had colon cancer.
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