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R.I.P. Kirstie Alley

What a terrible shock: Kirstie Alley has died from cancer at 71.

I was just rewatching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and marveling at her performance. She was so green (new) that there were concerns about her performance the first few weeks; producer Bob Sallin hired her an acting coach, which helped.

You’d never know from the movie. What a luminous screen presence: endlessly interesting, vulnerable, wry—with that eerie, otherworldly beauty, and sexy as hell in a turtleneck.

Leonard Nimoy once explained the trick to acting as Spock is not that he had no emotions; but that Spock experienced intense passions that he was forever trying to cover up.

For some reason (I have to believe it was a choice, not a coincidence) the Original Series cast Jewish performers as Vulcans: Nimoy, Mark Lenard, Celia Lovsky, Arlene Martel, Lawrence Montaigne—all Jews. It sort of made them look all related, and also added a kind of Rabbinical wisdom.

Also, they reminded me of my nutty relatives—just doing a deadpan act.

Kirstie Alley—not Jewish. From Wichita, Kansas. But boy was she funny, and she nailed the deadpan thing. Apparently she was obsessed with Spock and had been practicing being a Vulcan for years.

When she was replaced by Robin Curtis for the Star Trek sequels, well—Robin Curtis seems like a good person and did her best, but it was like folding from three dimensions into two.

I remember the DC comic book creators thought so—they continued to draw Saavik as Alley even after the recasting:

Yeah, they take some typically juvenile comic book liberties there with her physique.

Although—and I truly mean this as a matter of admiration—I’m from a generation of men who can trace the onset of puberty to her strip-search scene in the clunky 1984 Michael Crichton sci-fi thriller, Runaway:

If you want to go waaaaay back, here she is in a couple of 1979 syndicated Match Game episodes, sparring with host Gene Rayburn.

Rayburn died in 1999, from failure of the blank. (Sorry, old joke.)

Alley didn’t really become famous until she was cast as Rebecca Howe in Cheers in 1987. This was a near-impossible task: the heart and soul of Cheers was the Sam and Diane romance. But with Alley, somehow the show became even more popular.

She could hold a lit cigarette inside her mouth, a trick apparently taught to her by her uncle when she was eight—what was wrong with that family?

And yeah...she was kind of nutty. In recent years she spouted some unpopular political opinions. But who cares? It sounds like she was awesome.

There have been inevitable losses to the Star Trek casts in recent years (most recently, Nichelle Nichols). Star Trek II featured a terrific supporting cast, several of whom left us far too soon: Merritt Butrick, Bibi Besch, Paul Winfield—Ricardo Montalban, of course.

And now Alley—shocking, in that she seemed like such a force of nature, and so youthful even with various tabloid nonsense that popped up.

Farewell to a great and unforgettable performer who so charmed and entertained us.

“Mr. Saavik, you go right on quoting regulations.”

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