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A chattering chinchilla. An 8-foot-tall castle dollhouse. A bright-red lobster lamp. No, this is not Dr. Dolittle 3. This is real life inside Kirstie Alley's Italianate mansion in the Hollywood Hills. The mansion may ooze Old World charm, but just under the ornate frescoes and cathedral ceilings are healthy dollops of whimsy -- everything from dancing cat sculptures to hallways with decreasingly miniature doors that one has to eventually crouch down to pass through. In this mix of the classic and absurd live Alley, 55, her son, William True, 13, and her daughter, Lillie Price, 11.
Alley walks out of her green-tiled kitchen in a V-neck argyle sweater of pinks and browns paired with dark-pink velour sweats and a pair of jewel-encrusted flip-flops. On her face there's only a swipe of sheer red lip gloss. Her skin is creamy and she's about 60 pounds lighter than she was on Fat Actress. Her new, still boldly curvy body is a clear sign that she's taking her role as Jenny Craig spokesgal seriously. Now, years after playing Rebecca Howe on Cheers, making at least a dozen films, writing How to Lose Your Ass and Regain Your Life, and reinventing her career in 2005 by capitalizing on gaining more than 80 pounds, the 5-foot-8 Alley is looking for fresh challenges. On the docket? Acting in a new TV series, producing a radio show and children's films, starring in an exercise video based on her own four-day-a-week workouts, and oh, yeah, just maybe meeting a man worthy of another trip down the aisle.
Ladies' Home Journal: Exactly how many animals do you have in this house?
Kirstie Alley: I have six dogs, four cats, chinchillas...I can't say exactly how many animals I have because the authorities might come after me. I will say I have koi [Ed. Note: Japanese fish] and rabbits, though.
LHJ: It looks as though you also have some raccoons. The trash from your bins is strewn across the driveway.
KA: No, that was probably the paparazzi going through my trash.
LHJ: The tabloids have been after you for years, haven't they?
KA: I was 220 pounds and being pummeled by the media. I'd show up at a premiere and then see the most hideous photographs of me in a magazine. I was under assault. But I had to take responsibility for being a celebrity -- that whether you like it or not, when you walk out the door, you're a target.
LHJ: So you eventually solicited Jenny Craig in hopes of becoming their spokeswoman. That was bold, because if you failed, you'd be the butt of every Saturday Night Live joke.
KA: Yeah, but I love that game. When I play ball, I play hardball. The reason I went for Jenny Craig is I thought, Maybe I'm not the only one who has stupid reasons for getting fat. I don't believe you have to have eating disorders and mental illness to screw up. You can just make some really bad decisions. And I personally believe that behind both the person who weighs 400 pounds and the one who weighs 85 there is a lot of baggage, and it has nothing to do with their bodies.
LHJ: Okay. So now you've lost...
KA: Sixty something. I want to weigh about 138.
LHJ: How drastically have your eating habits changed?
KA: Before, for breakfast I'd have two eggs, two or three pieces of toast, and then maybe three caramel apples. Later, instead of a plate of pasta, I would have, like, three plates of pasta, seven dinner rolls, five tablespoons of butter. If I were going to have chips, I would have 120 instead of 20. If something tasted good I wanted more -- a lot more.
LHJ: So is it just madness right now for you as a mom? You're dieting, which means everything is irritating, and you have your kids two-thirds of the time, which means you are living with a tween and a teen.
KA: My son is stone-cold funny. He plays the guitar, and has a great voice, but he's too embarrassed to sing right now. My daughter is very sophisticated -- go figure. She's really fashion conscious and a great designer. They're unique personalities. No matter what parents do, kids retain their uniqueness. It's fascinating.
LHJ: Are you able to find the time to do normal everyday chores with your kids -- like driving them to school, homework, things like that?
KA: I probably spend more time with my kids than the average stay-at-home mother. When I taped Fat Actress, we worked while they were at school. In fact, my contract stated that work had to be during those hours. Fortunately, I've been able to call the shots on that.
LHJ: So you're used to seeing yourself as the breadwinner?
KA: I've always aspired for things like mopeds and vacations and pastries and anything frivolous. That's what I wanted to give my children. I didn't feel much pressure otherwise, so I think that's how I've made a good income. Plus, I always feel like there is some dude out there with money that I could fall back on if I needed to [laughs].
LHJ: So do you always think of a man with money as your plan B?
KA: I say there's always somebody older, richer, more desperate than you.
LHJ: Are you actively looking for a serious relationship now?
KA: Now I have risen up to looking. I'm sticking with my new questionnaire: What do you donate to? What are you passionate about? What religion are you, really? What do you do for that religion? You can tell a lot about a person by how much he helps other people. It's like reeling in fish -- maybe you have to throw a lot back before you get that special trout.
LHJ: So your view has changed.
KA: For some reason I am one of those people who act like they were born and raised during the Depression. My theory of property is that if all hell breaks loose in the world, you and your 100 closest friends need to be able to go away and form a commune with a water supply, electricity, and your own food. And I view men the same way: You need the backup man in case you decide you can't take it anymore. I think the ideal marriage is to a multi-multi-multi-millionaire who is dying to take care of me if I need it.
The thing is to look for someone who has a complete life without you in it. And you look at how they live, their income, their children, everything like that. If you have a person you don't need for anything, that's ideal. Then you're just together because you really want to be. Every now and then, my ex-husband and I still have the occasional hideous fight, which I hate. I'm not down with that -- it's not going to happen anymore.
LHJ: So having a man is no longer a requirement, then.
KA: I know two things: that I am really happy by myself, and that if you have two really happy people, that combined relationship could be something extraordinary.
LHJ: You've been married before [Ed. Note: to Parker Stevenson]. With what you know, would you remarry?
KA: I love marriage. I mean, I failed at marriage, but I also believe that it's a great institution. The idea of "let's just be together" for me is, well, sort of a cowardly view of life. I'd rather go into anything -- a job, a business, a marriage -- with gusto and fail than go into it half-assed. I'm the kind of person who couldn't care less about sex unless I meet someone who I think is wonderful. I sort of feel sorry for the next man who gets me. I may just kill him with passion. He'd better be strong and have a good heart!
LHJ: You've had to battle your compulsive behavior all your life. Overeating aside, you smoked for more than 20 years and had a problem with cocaine when you were in your 20s.
KA: It was the first time in my life I had experienced the compulsion to do something bad. It's like I know my heart races and every time I do it I think I'm going to die, but I'm going to do it again. A friend came to visit and she had someone with her who was a Scientologist. I asked questions like, "Do they help you with compulsions?" She said, "Totally. You can bang out a compulsion." And I was like, I've got to see this. So I literally moved from Kansas to Los Angeles to do Scientology. It's been 26 years and I haven't had a desire to do any drug since.
LHJ: This was a real turning point?
KA: You know, through history, both philosophers and everyday people look for something spiritual. The greatest scientists in the world were men of religion and faith, too. So when push comes to shove and you've gotten yourself in a pickle, it ain't the science that's going to lift you up -- it's the belief, the spiritual side of life, that's going to lift you up, no matter what religion you are.
LHJ: Why didn't you apply those same principles to your weight?
KA: It was different in that I developed a nutty attitude where I'd think, If some guy really loves me he doesn't care if I'm fat. Or, To be a good mother you've got to cook and eat the food you give your kids. I'd come up with all these stupid justifications and reasons why it would be okay to be fat.
LHJ: And you realized that you had to change your point of view?
KA: I am the one who got myself fat, who did all the eating. I never had a person tell me, "Why don't you shove food in your face?" So I had to take full responsibility for it.
LHJ: Did you ever consider liposuction or getting your stomach stapled?
KA: I figure God gave us intestines for a reason. Plus, when I see people lose weight that way, their body turns into a stick and their heads are giant. I call them lollipop heads. And I'm not keen on surgery. It's too extreme. On the lipo deal, for me, all it took was one of those reality plastic surgery shows to see how violent it is. When you're the spokeswoman for a weight-loss program, you are under strict rules and regulations. Everything is witnessed. I weigh in once a week with a witness hired by them. I have to sign an affidavit saying I cannot have any surgeries.
LHJ: Since you have lost all this weight, is there a particular part of your body you've rediscovered, like "Wow, who knew that was there?
KA: Well, I always had really long swimmer's arms. When I was looking in the mirror I was like, Damn, I see the cut again. The last to totally go is always my thighs and butt, but it's actually inspiring because my old body is there somewhere.
LHJ: Can you imagine the warped body image you'd have if you were just starting your career? The demand on actresses is to be paper-thin now.
KA: When I see someone who is starved, they don't look alert. They don't have boundless energy. I like to look at a person who looks strong and alert and vibrant with bright sparkling eyes and beautiful skin and enough meat on their bones that they could survive for a while if they had to. If you're too skinny, it looks like you're near death. That's not pretty to me.
LHJ: Your daughter is 11. Are you concerned about how your battles with weight will affect her body image?
KA: No, because I think she's seen me lose it in a very sane way and she knows that there's a lot more to life than how fat or thin you are. She knows I drink a lot of water with lime in it. She knows I'm eating good food, and she knows I'm taking vitamins. I made her very aware that what I was doing before was not healthy.
LHJ: How do you help your kids to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
KA: Well, we eat mostly organic food and I don't let them sit at the computer all day. They're allowed to do some homework on the computer, but even that's minimal. They're allowed to watch an hour of TV every day -- that's it.
LHJ: Speaking of caretaking, I understand you and some friends helped rescue animals in New Orleans?
KA: Yes, we worked with the ASPCA in Baton Rouge. That's where all the animals were brought from New Orleans. They were getting excellent care, by the way. I rescued a cat and a dog. He's a little puppy, and I named him Fawney -- he's a little fawn.
LHJ: Any other new projects?
KA: I'm in the process of creating a new TV series and I'd also like to create really quality films for kids. I grew up with movies that were smart and weren't condescending -- The Yearling, Old Yeller. But now you couldn't have Old Yeller because he gets shot in the end. That's life and you're not going to live your life unscathed. I'm also toying with the idea of doing a radio show just because we've got a plethora of shock jocks and shrink talk, but there's got to be a space in there for something more nurturing -- like Frank Capra or Burns and Allen. I want a show that can somehow be fun and funny and not preachy. A show that will create better lives for people. I'd like a little more of that and less porn, shock jock, grotesque [content]. The world is becoming more and more degraded, and I want to take a strong, sharp turn. So much of what's going on turns people into victims. You're a victim of this disease or that disorder. I want to see something different.
LHJ: One last diet question: Ever worry about falling off the wagon?
KA: I just have to plan my meals. I talk to my Jenny Craig consultant regularly. Then this friend of mine, Whitney, makes the best cookies in the world. So I'll have those. [Pauses] Do you like gingersnaps?
LHJ: Yes, of course.
KA: [She picks up the phone and has one of her assistants bring in a dainty bag of eight cookies.] See, I can have two cookies. Maybe somebody else can eat 10, but I won't. I will have two.
LHJ: What does the tag say?
KA: "Whitney: Fattening up Hollywood one cookie at a time."
Don't you just love it?
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, February 2006.