Kirstie Alley, the screen legend who helped steer Cheers into a successful second act, has passed away after a battle with cancer. The actress was 71.
Even before she was cast as the new female lead on one of the ‘80s and ‘90s’ biggest hit TV shows, Alley was a major presence. She made her screen debut on television, albeit in an unexpected way: She was a game show contestant, appearing on both Match Game (which she won, twice) and Password Plus. She soon transitioned into acting, where she was able to cross cross between TV and film. Her big screen debut was as the Vulcan Saavik in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. She soon grew in stature, appearing in the main cast of the hit Civil War miniseries North and South, with Patrick Swayze.
In 1987, Alley joined Cheers as Rebecca Howe, who takes over the Boston bar as its manager. When her stint began, Rebecca was no-nonsense, allergic to the advances of Ted Danson’s Sam Malone, who was still smarting from the departure of Shelley Long’s Diane Chambers. But over the next six seasons, cracks started to appear, revealing a hot mess who was unbelievably unlucky in love. The Rebecca Years aren’t as hallowed as the Diane Years, but they’re very good and, more importantly, distinctive in their own way.
Not far into Alley’s Cheers run she struck big at the movie box office, too: She starred, with John Travolta, in the talking baby comedy Look Who’s Talking, as well as its two sequels. After the show ended in 1993, she had the hit solo vehicle Veronica’s Closet, which ran from 1997 through 2000. She also had the short-lived TV Land comedy Kirstie, which reunited her with fellow Cheers alum Rhea Perlman. Alley didn’t stick to comedy; she did a number of TV films and miniseries as well, winning her second Emmy for 1994’s David’s Mother. She also appeared in two reality series: Fat Actress and Kirstie Alley’s Big Life.
In their social media post about her passing, Alley’s children wrote that 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.
“We are grateful to the incredible team of doctors and nurses at the Moffitt Cancer Center for their care,” the statement continued. “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. We thank you for your love and prayers and ask that you respect our privacy at this difficult time.”