Kirstie Alley, the smokey-voiced actress with the piercing eyes who played the tavern manager Rebecca Howe on Cheers and the Vulcan Starfleet officer Lt. Saavik in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, has died at the age of 71.
Alley’s children, True and Lillie Parker, announced her passing on her Twitter account Monday evening. “We are sad to inform you that our incredible, fierce and loving mother has passed away after a battle with cancer, only recently discovered,” they wrote, adding that “she was surrounded by her closest family and fought with great strength.”
They also thanked the medical caregivers who treated her at the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Fla.
Alley appeared in more than 70 movies and TV shows during her career, but is best known for taking on the role of Howe during the sixth season of Cheers, playing an ambitious middle manager who ran the Boston watering hole after it was purchased by the Lillian Corporation. Howe was added to the sitcom after previous lead, Shelley Long, left the series to pursue film projects. While Long’s fussy, erudite waitress Diane was a mismatched contrast to Ted Danson‘s barkeep Sam Malone, Alley’s brassy Rebecca was surprisingly similar, with sparks flying because she matched his boldness and confidence.
Ultimately, the implacable Rebecca was revealed to be just as neurotic and messy as the rest of Cheers‘ denizens, and the role won Alley a best comedic actress Emmy in 1991.
In a statement to Vanity Fair, Danson said he happened to have revisited an episode of their TV show. “I was on a plane today and did something I rarely do. I watched an old episode of Cheers. It was the episode where Tom Berenger proposes to Kirstie, who keeps saying no, even though she desperately wants to say yes. Kirstie was truly brilliant in it. Her ability to play a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown was both moving and hysterically funny. She made me laugh 30 years ago when she shot that scene, and she made me laugh today just as hard.
“As I got off the plane, I heard that Kirstie had died,” Danson added. “I am so sad and so grateful for all the times she made me laugh. I send my love to her children. As they well know, their mother had a heart of gold. I will miss her.”
She is notable as the only Cheers actor who never reprised her role on the spinoff series, Frasier. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 1993, when Cheers was airing its finale, she said she was against reprising characters. “I don’t go back. My opinion about reunion shows is that they are so audiences can go, ‘Gee, they look 10 years older.’ Well, duh, hello, it has been 10 years!” As for what eventually became of her character, Alley said only: “Where do I see Rebecca? I don’t. She’s history. She ends.”