Kirstie Alley, ‘Cheers’ and ‘Veronica’s Closet’ star, dead at 71


Kirstie Alley, the two-time Emmy-winning star of the classic sitcom “Cheers” and the comedy “Veronica’s Closet,” has died. She was 71.

Her passing was announced Monday evening on her official Twitter account by her children.

“We are sad to inform you that our incredible, fierce and loving mother has passed away after a battle with cancer, only recently discovered.

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. As iconic as she was on screen, she was an even more amazing mother and grandmother,” wrote her children.

The family also acknowledged the “incredible team” at Moffitt Cancer Center in their statement.

“Our mother’s zest and passion for life, her children, grandchildren and her many animals, not to mention her eternal joy of creating, were unparalleled and leave us inspired to live life to the fullest just as she did,” the announcement continued.

“We thank you for your love and prayers and ask that you respect our privacy at this difficult time.”

John Travolta also paid tribute to his longtime friend and former movie co-star on Instagram.

“Kirstie was one of the most special relationships I’ve ever had,” he posted to Instagram after her death was announced. “I love you Kirstie. I know we will see each other again.”

Other stars honoring her on social media include comedian Adam Carolla, who wrote that he “felt lucky” to know her, and “Hot in Cleveland” alum Valerie Bertinelli, who tweeted simply, “Oh Kirstie … Rest in Peace.”

“Whether you agreed with her or not, Kirstie Alley was an undeniable talent who brought joy to many – through the screen and with her warm, hilarious spirit,” added comic Jackée Harry. “RIP, luv. You were one of a kind.”

Alley was best known for her turn as Rebecca Howe, the sexy bar manager in the NBC comedy “Cheers,” in which she starred opposite Ted Danson from 1987 to 1993. She won the 1991 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal, for which she was nominated five times. She additionally earned a Golden Globe for the part.

Regarding the role that launched her stardom, she once jokingly called the James Burrows and Glen and Les Charles-created series a “boys club.”

“’Cheers’ is a dictatorship,” Alley told the Los Angeles Times with a laugh in 1993. “It is a boys’ club and they dictate what the girls do and that is the way you do it. There are no conferences about what your character is or should be. It makes people go unconscious. They just tell you what your character is doing in the script, period.”

Kirstie Alley attends a New York event in 2012.
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Her more than 40-year career included numerous film roles, including as a Vulcan Starfleet officer in the 1982 hit “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and as a career-driven single mom in 1989’s “Look Who’s Talking,” which also starred Travolta, Bruce Willis, Olympia Dukakis and George Segal. The popular flick also spawned a 1990 sequel, “Look Who’s Talking Too,” and a 1993 entry, “Look Who’s Talking Now.”

She landed a 1994 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special for the CBS drama “David’s Mother.”

Much of Alley’s work centered on comedy, with appearances in TV sitcoms including “The Goldbergs,” “The Middle,” “Hot in Cleveland,” “The King of Queens,” Dharma & Greg,” among others.

"Cheers" star Kirstie Alley has died at age 71.
“Cheers” star Kirstie Alley has died at age 71.
NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Alley often took on what could be considered characters with flaws, a move that she apparently took as “self-deprecating,” according to a 2015 interview with Parade.

“It’s not necessarily intentional. … I like playing a loser. I like playing someone who can’t redeem themselves easily,” she said. “For me, I guess, it’s self-deprecating and that works best for me. The more of a loser I play, I think actually, probably the better I am. It’s hard to play a comedy winner.”

She also had a stint in the 2005 Showtime comedy “Fat Actress,” as well as in a 2010 reality show, “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life,” which documented her well-known struggles with weight. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Alley said she confronted her ongoing issues after a parking valet one time assumed she was pregnant and asked when she was due.

“I just said, ’11 weeks!’ … It hasn’t been really painful, but I think the hardest part is that I spent most of my life thin, you know? [Now] it’s an effort to get dressed, whereas before I would just go, ‘Ooh, I look good in these jeans.’”

Kirstie Alley starred opposite Ted Danson in the sitcom "Cheers."
Kirstie Alley starred opposite Ted Danson in the sitcom “Cheers.”
NBCUniversal via Getty Images

The always outspoken actress — a onetime spokesperson for Jenny Craig — also suggested that her weight had an effect on potential hookups.

“Well, I don’t want to have fat sex, you know,” Kirstie told Winfrey. “I’ve been celibate for four-and-a-half years, because I think I’ve become like a born-again virgin. It’s by choice. Even when [I was thinner], I wondered what I looked like when I’m walking in [the room]. I was sort of inhibited. Now, I know what I look like, and I just can’t see some guy’s eyes going, ‘Oh, my God!’”

Alley’s weight wasn’t the only personal aside that brought her attention.

She was a longtime Scientologist alongside A-listers including Travolta, Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Moss. Alley additionally faced blowback for supporting former President Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020 and denounced his long suspension from Twitter.

In 2020, Alley also slammed Oscar diversity standards as a “disgrace.”

Kirstie Alley And Lorri Bagley appear in a 1999 episode of "Veronica's Closet."
Kirstie Alley And Lorri Bagley appear in a 1999 episode of “Veronica’s Closet.”
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Alley was unmarried at the time of her death but was married twice before: She and “The Hardy Boys” actor Parker Stevenson were hitched from 1983 to 1997, and she was married to Bob Alley, her high school sweetheart, from 1970 to 1977.

She also admitted to being emotionally linked with Patrick Swayze, with whom she starred in the 1985 miniseries “North and South” while she was still with Stevenson.

“We did not have an affair,” she told the Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “But again, I think what I did was worse. Because I think when you fall in love with someone when you’re married, you jeopardize your own marriage and their marriage. It’s doubly bad.”

In 2018, she also suggested that Travolta had a substantial pull for her.

“I almost ran off and married John. I did love him, I still love him,” she said on “Celebrity Big Brother UK.” “If I hadn’t been married, I would have gone and married him. And I would have been in an airplane, because he has his own! Let me tell you, girls. It doesn’t seem like it’s important if someone has a private jet, but it is. As you get older, you’re not going to want to hang out in airports.”

Kirstie Alley was a Kansas native.
Kirstie Alley was a Kansas native.

Alley was born in Wichita, Kansas, and suggested that she “escaped” to Hollywood with help from cocaine.

“The truth of how I escaped Kansas is being high. I was drugged out of my mind on cocaine, and I got in the car, and I left to go to California,” she told Parade in the 2015 interview. “If I hadn’t been drugged out, I would never have been able to realize my dream. It sounds so stupid but to extricate myself from Wichita, Kansas, really took some doing.”

Alley — who also logged appearances in reality competitions including “Dancing with the Stars,” “Celebrity Big Brother” and “The Masked Singer” — suggested that reality shows may make breaking out a bit easier for star wannabes today.

“With reality shows, and things like that on TV now, people probably feel a little more hopeful that they could make something of themselves,” she told Parade. “But at that time, 30 years ago, it was just like, ‘How could I possibly dare to think that I could go be a star? How could I possibly think that?’ That’s more of a Midwest thing, you’re sort of humbled and if you’re not humbled people will humble you, like, ‘Well, who the hell do you think you are to move to California and be a star? I mean, come on, Kirstie.’” 

A longtime California resident, Alley sold her California home for $7.8 million in 2021; she had purchased the Los Feliz property in 2000.

She is survived by her children, William True Stevenson and Lillie Price Stevenson, as well as a grandson.

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