Photo: Ron Galella Collection via Getty

Kirstie Alley, the two-time Emmy winning actress and one of a small handful of undisputed queens of the sitcom format, has died at the age of 71. According to Alley’s official Twitter account, the Cheers and Veronica’s Closet star’s surprise death came “after a battle with cancer, only recently discovered.”

The native Kansan discovered Scientology in the year 1979 at the age of 28, after emerging from a divorce from her high school sweetheart and an addiction to cocaine. After going through a Scientology-affiliated rehab program, she scored her first major role was in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. A moderately successful film career ultimately blossomed into a major sitcom career when Alley landed a role on the NBC smash sitcom Cheers in 1987 after Shelley Long exited the program in search of a film career that never ultimately blossomed. Alley’s headstrong Rebecca Howe proved to be a formidable match for Ted Danson’s Sam Malone, and their “will they or won’t they?” energy and clear on-screen chemistry played a major role in that show’s ascent into broadcast history. For her work, Alley was awarded with five Emmy nominations for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, ultimately taking home the prize at the 1991 Emmy Awards.

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