© 2023 WNIJ and WNIU
Northern Public Radio
801 N 1st St.
DeKalb, IL 60115
815-753-9000
Northern Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Actress Kirstie Alley died Monday at age 71

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Stars who worked with actor Kirstie Alley are paying tribute after her death yesterday. Ted Danson, who worked with Alley on the TV sitcom "Cheers," told People magazine that he's, quote, "grateful for all the times she made him laugh." Jamie Lee Curtis, who was Alley's co-star on "Scream Queens," wrote, she was a beautiful mama bear in real life. And she added that they agreed to disagree about some things. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this remembrance.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: When Kirstie Alley joined "Cheers" in 1987, she replaced Shelley Long, one of the most beloved members of the cast. Bill Carter was a TV writer for The New York Times.

BILL CARTER: I was dubious, but everyone involved in the show was so impressed with her because she, first of all, fit right in. But she was also fearless, absolutely fearless.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CHEERS")

KIRSTIE ALLEY: (As Rebecca Howe) I prefer the Fortune 500 type - one who owns blocks, not one who plays with them.

(LAUGHTER)

BLAIR: As the new Cheers bar manager, Alley was gorgeous, smart, confident and the perfect foil for the womanizing bartender played by Ted Danson.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CHEERS")

TED DANSON: (As Sam Malone) I want to sleep with you 25 times, but...

(LAUGHTER)

DANSON: (As Sam Malone) ...You don't want to sleep with me at all. Am I right?

ALLEY: (As Rebecca Howe) Right.

DANSON: (As Sam Malone) OK. So what's half of 25?

(LAUGHTER)

ALLEY: (As Rebecca Howe) Your IQ.

BLAIR: Kirstie Alley won her first of two Emmys for "Cheers." The second was for playing a mother whose son has autism in the 1994 TV movie "David's Mother."

Alley grew up in Kansas. Her father owned a lumber company. She was introduced to Scientology in the 1970s. She wrote in her memoir that she was a drugged-out mess at the time. She told Us magazine Scientology made her a lot stronger and tougher. Alley didn't yet call herself an actor when she was a contestant on "Match Game" with host Gene Rayburn in 1979.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MATCH GAME")

GENE RAYBURN: Kirstie (laughter), as in thirsty, huh? Where do you live?

ALLEY: I live in Wichita, Kan.

RAYBURN: Specifically, what is your address and phone number? No, I'm only kidding.

BLAIR: And right away, you can see Alley's trademark sass. She raises her eyebrows and smiles as if to say, who is this jerk? Others noticed it, too. And soon, her TV and movie career was launched.

BRENDA HAMPTON: She was truly funny. Every time I saw her, she was funny.

BLAIR: Brenda Hampton and Kirstie Alley co-created the comedy "Fat Actress" in the early 2000s.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FAT ACTRESS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) If you want to get your own show, you're going to have to lose some weight.

ALLEY: (As herself) Well, why can't I just get a show first and then just lose the weight?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) That's not the way it works, my friend.

ALLEY: (As herself) You know what, my friend? It does work that way with the guys. I mean, look; John Goodman's got his own show. And Jason Alexander looks like a fricking bowling ball.

BLAIR: Hampton says she loved working with Alley. She could be aggressive, but reasonable. She says a lot of Scientologists worked on the set.

HAMPTON: I was afraid I would - you know, they would try to recruit me, or there would be a lot of talk of Scientology. But that just didn't happen, and it was a very fun set.

BLAIR: During the pandemic, Alley disparaged the idea of vaccine passports and wrote that fear of dying is CNN's mantra. She also believed she was blackballed by Hollywood for supporting Donald Trump. Bill Carter believes Scientology colored her career.

CARTER: And it's interesting. It colored her career in ways it has clearly not for Tom Cruise. But it didn't hurt or in any way change the feelings about her that I've heard from people that worked with her who always admired her.

BLAIR: A statement from Kirstie Alley's children reads, 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.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.