Kirstie Alley, the two-time Emmy-winning actor whose work on Cheers, Look Who’s Talking, and Veronica’s Closet won her the hearts of audiences across the world, died following a short fight with cancer, her family said Monday. She was 71.
“We are sad to inform you that our incredible, fierce and loving mother has passed away after a battle with cancer, only recently discovered,” said her children, True and Lillie Parker. In a statement posted across Alley’s social media accounts, they recalled her “zest and passion for life” and “her eternal joy of creating.”
“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,” the statement continued. “As iconic as she was on screen, she was an even more amazing mother and grandmother.”
A rep for the actress said she was diagnosed with colon cancer, People magazine reports.
Alley shot to stardom in 1987 after debuting as Rebecca Howe on the sixth season of Cheers. She was lauded for her performance as Rebecca, the bar’s new manager and love interest to Ted Danson’s salt-of-the-earth barkeep, earning both a Golden Globe and an Emmy in 1991.
In her Emmy acceptance speech, Alley earned a huge, scandalized laugh from the audience after thanking her then-husband, Parker Stevenson, as “the man who has given me the big one for the last eight years.” Stevenson and Alley were married from 1983 until their 1997 divorce. They adopted two children—William True Stevenson and Lillie Price Stevenson—and cultivated a menagerie of “about 40 animals, including dogs, cats, birds and ring-tailed lemurs,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Described by Danson at the time as “a biker chick crossed with an earth mother,” according to the Times, Alley proved exceedingly popular, and would go on to appear in 147 episodes of Cheers until the show ended in 1993.
After Cheers, Alley retained her ties with NBC, returning in 1997 to star as the titular protagonist of Veronica’s Closet, a sitcom from the creators of Friends about a lingerie-company owner in New York, across three seasons.
Along the way, Alley accrued a series of choice film credits as well, having kicked off her career as a Starfleet commander-in-training under the tutelage of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Just before landing Cheers, Alley starred in Summer School, a 1987 comedy flick in which she played the teacher-next-door to Mark Harmon’s smooth gym coach.
One of her most beloved cinematic projects, however, remains 1989’s Look Who’s Talking, in which she starred opposite John Travolta. The two, both members of the Church of Scientology, remained exceedingly close in the ensuing years, with Travolta even calling Alley his “soulmate” in 2019.
“Kirstie was one of the most special relationships I’ve ever had,” Travolta wrote in an Instagram post on Monday night. “I love you Kirstie. I know we will see each other again.”
Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1951, Alley was a college dropout who moved to Los Angeles to chase a career as an interior designer, and to deepen an already burgeoning connection to Scientology. Struggling with substance abuse issues, she became a member of the organization in 1979, and credited the group’s drug treatment program, Narconon, for freeing her from a cocaine addiction.
Later in her career, Alley branched out, playing a fictionalized version of herself in the 2005 meta-comedy Fat Actress; acting as a spokesperson for the weight loss and nutrition brand Jenny Craig; appearing twice on Dancing With the Stars (and placing second on the show in 2011); and performing as the “Baby Mammoth” on The Masked Singer earlier this year.
Her later acting projects included turns on The Middle, The Goldbergs, and the sophomore season of Scream Queens.
Jamie Lee Curtis, a Scream Queens co-star, called Alley “a great comic foil” on the show “and a beautiful mama bear in her very real life.”
“She helped me buy onesies for my family that year for Christmas,” Curtis recalled in a tribute post to Instagram. “We agreed to disagree about some things but had a mutual respect and connection. Sad news.”
Besides her ties to Scientology, Alley courted controversy with her vocal support for former President Donald Trump, saying a month before the 2020 presidential election that she intended to vote for him, as she had in 2016. Last May, she took to Tucker Carlson Today to complain about the industry backlash she’d faced for espousing her political beliefs.
“You can be cooking meth and sleeping with hookers but as long as, apparently, you didn’t vote for Trump,” she told Carlson. “I feel like I’m in The Twilight Zone, a bit, with the whole concept of it.”
Alley also tweeted in support of the protesters rioting at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, advising them, “Patriots: Do your best to not become Antifa.. we are better than that.. we come in Peace.” Later that day, she added in a separate tweet: “WAR SUCKS!!!! Sometimes it’s necessary but IT SUCKS!!”
She clarified her “stance on Jan. 6th” several days later, tweeting that the breach of the Capitol was “a treasonous criminal terrifying act and those people should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”