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Kirstie Alley Was Celebrated Not Because She Was Perfect, But Because Her Flaws Were So Visible | american television



It was an impressively shocking moment on the hit sitcom Cheers when actress Kirstie Alley opened her mouth to reveal her tongue clutching a lit cigarette: in one brief catlike motion, she deftly flipped it over, caught it between her teeth, and sank into a puff. of satisfied smoke. In the scene, Alley wears a pink turtleneck under a pink coat that shows off big ’80s shoulders, the whole moment evoking the feeling of the alpha bad girl taking a surreptitiously smoke break in the ladies’ room.

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That moment sums up a lot about the unique persona Alley brought to Cheers and the decades of acting and celebrity that would follow as she forged a persona that was compelling in its complexity.

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Although Alley arrived at Cheers in 1987 and had already built a reputation with roles in the films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Runaway, it was on the hit Boston sitcom that Alley rose to stardom, winning an Emmy for her performance. interpretation. from neurotic businesswoman Rebecca Howe. She boldly stepped in in the absence brought about by the departure of lead actress Shelley Long, establishing herself as a force in her own right and giving the show a new lease on life.

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Alley’s Howe exuded a roughness and savagery beneath the surface of a highly polished, if undeniably misfit, femininity; in that, it was a lot like Alley’s infamous Emmys speech, where she delivered a disjointed, bawdy series of comments that felt as sincere and lighthearted as they did. he pushed the limits and it was inappropriate.

Kirstie Alley and her husband Parker Stevenson at the 1991 Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles. Photograph: Barry King/Alamy

As her career grew, Alley went beyond Cheers to star in popular films like the Look Who’s Talking trilogy, as well as becoming the lead character in the comedy Veronica’s Closet, where she played the owner of a sassy lingerie company. other things to be enjoyed in the bedroom. Projects like these continued to build her trajectory as an actress willing to push her sex appeal into edgy territory, while also letting her shine as an angsty, everyday woman who just wants to find a good man and fall in love with her.

As with the fictional characters she portrayed, in her personal life, Alley publicly went her own way. She credited her affiliation with the Church of Scientology with helping her overcome a severe cocaine addiction, and in the church she eventually achieved Level 8 Operating Thetan status, an extremely high rank that costs millions of dollars to obtain. She also sparked controversy in her affiliation with candidate Donald Trump, later vowing to withdraw her support for him in the 2016 presidential election and finally declaring in October 2020 that she had voted for him once and planned to do so again. Amid all the scrutiny of her ties to Trump, it was less remembered that Alley also twice voted for Barack Obama.

Alley had a similar on-off relationship with the weight loss company Jenny Craig, first operating as a spokesperson, then leaving the company and starting her own weight loss company, Organic Liaison, and eventually selling that company to Jenny. Craig and resuming his spokesman duties. Just as her relationship with Jenny Craig went back and forth, so did her weight: On Oprah in 2005, she publicly chastised herself for weighing too much, then returned to that show a year later modeling a bikini, her weight continuing to be very public. . yo-yo for a decade later.

Kirstie Alley in the 2005 Showtime series Fat Actress. Photo: Showtime/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

Along the way, Alley turned her calorie angst into a scathing, unscripted, semi-autobiographical Showtime series called Fat Actress, a very quintessential move for her. Alley’s hip-hitting stance and high-profile battles with her demons resonated with fans, as did her reputation for having a big heart and not putting on airs. While Alley’s endorsement of Trump or her many inflammatory and profanity-laden tweets were often divisive (Alley claimed her votes for Trump caused Hollywood to shun her), it is telling that Jenny Craig never removed her as spokesperson and that her death caused an outpouring. of good memories, even those with which she had quarreled.

Alley was so widely celebrated not because she was flawless but because her flaws were so visible: she was among those celebrities who are compelling because they eschew the carefully crafted image of celebrity in favor of offering something that feels completely unfiltered and therefore much more intimate. .

It was this unscripted sense of intimacy that brought her best roles and defined her as an actress, allowing her to inhabit her characters with a forcefulness that borders on swagger. Alley rose to prominence at a time when actresses such as Roseanne Barr and Rosie O’Donnell sparked controversy in large part by challenging sexist expectations of how a female celebrity should appear in public life and how she should portray characters in film and television. TV.

If some of Alley’s stances now feel throwback or even cringe-inducing, they reflect the degree to which she was swallowed up by the forces that shaped her as an actress. Until the end, Alley presented an image of a person actively working to heal themselves in the midst of a painful and difficult search for peace.

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