When The Nostalgia Hits

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode -- Pictured: Actress Kirstie Alley during an interview on ...
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An Ode To Kirstie Alley & Her Messy Self

And how much I, a bonafide ‘90s girl, will miss her.

There are so many movie and television stars who seamlessly become a part of your own canon. So seamlessly, in fact, that you aren’t sure how you were introduced to them or where you saw them first. You might not even be able to name what it is you’ve seen them in, you just know the name and are instantly touched. “Oh! I love her,” you say. You don’t know why. You just do.

And for so many, that star is Kirstie Alley.

Alley, who died yesterday at the age of 71 after a brief illness, is as much a part of my childhood as the neighbor across the street who watched me grow up or the parent of my elementary-school best friend who I still randomly see in the grocery store. I am always surprised to see her — and then delighted — as it unlocks a part of me that I haven’t thought about in a long time.

I called my Mom immediately when I heard she had died. She gasped “No!” when I told her. Because for the two of us, movie nights have always been our thing. And we go back and forth between a few, but our absolute favorite is Drop Dead Gorgeous, where Kirstie plays Gladys Leeman, the sneaky, conniving, sanctimonious director of the Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant. I refuse to give you any more information if you haven’t seen the movie (seriously, go watch it), but Kirstie’s character is very not-so-great and also very entertaining and wonderful and I truly think it might be one of her masterpieces.

Kirstie felt like such a real person to us — someone we knew and could count on — because she always seemed to be a real person. She was the underdog in so many movies. Remember her bad*ss single mom adventure in Look Who’s Talking?, pumping breast milk while working as an accountant, telling her ex-boyfriend where to shove it when she’d had enough? She was the one you were rooting for, like in It Takes Two when she was a social worker trying to save and love one little girl. She was the strong and determined one, the new bar owner in Cheers who rejects Sam’s advances, a woman proving herself in a man’s world.

Our moms loved her because she wasn’t the cookie cutter blonde on late night television giving interviews. She was funny and she was loud and unapologetically herself. My mom found great joy in Kirstie being a “bigger” actress (someone the tabloids would go after with unflattering pictures and stories about her latest weight loss saga) because she was also “bigger” and was tired of not seeing anyone who looked like her in movies or on TV.

We loved her because she was goofy and sassy; her characters had it together, but not always. Her hair was always a little frazzled, her blouse came untucked. Kirstie was always a little imperfect, a little tarnished, but she was also gorgeous and a bonafide star, a talented force you couldn’t take our eyes off of. So many of her iconic characters are funny and lovable even when they’re actually being terrible people. And maybe that kind of energy is why, even with so much controversy surrounding her in the last few decades (see: politics, Scientology), we are able to miss Kirstie Alley so openly.

Her death feels like the end of an era. Fortunately she’s wedged deep between the Barbies and the Polly Pockets where I can see her anytime I want — on the couch with my mom for a movie night.