'Cheers' Actress Kirstie Alley Dies of Colon Cancer at Age 71
Kirstie Alley, the 71-year-old actress who rose to fame as Rebecca Howe on the hit 1980s TV show "Cheers," has died after a brief battle with colon cancer.
Her two children, True and Lillie Parker, announced the news Dec. 5 on Twitter and Instagram.
"We are sad to inform you that our incredible, fierce and loving mother has passed away after a battle with cancer, only recently discovered," the statement read.
According to the post, Alley had been receiving treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, before she died.
Alley's long career
Alley kicked off her four-decade career in 1987 as the high-strung bar manager in "Cheers." The actress served as the female foil to the womanizing, working-class male protagonist, bartender Sam Malone (played by Ted Danson). The role earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress and an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in 1991.
In 1994, Alley won an Emmy for Lead Actress in a miniseries for her role in "David's Mother," playing the titular role as a woman raising a son with autism.
Alley's other noteworthy TV roles included a former model who became the head of a lingerie company in "Veronica's Closet" (1997 to 2000) and as herself in the 2005 Showtime comedy "Fat Actress." Alley also starred opposite John Travolta in the hit "Look Who's Talking" movies, a trilogy that debuted in 1989.
Alley married and eventually divorced Robert Alley and actor Parker Stevenson, with whom she had two children, William True and Lillie, 30 and 28, respectively.
Colon cancer is cause of death
The American Cancer Society (ACS) revealed on Dec. 6 that Alley's cause of death was colon cancer. Her manager, Donovan Daughtry, confirmed to the "Today" show that Alley was diagnosed with the disease prior to her death.
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, starts in the large intestine, colon or rectum. According to the ACS, colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women, and the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women combined in the United States. One in 20 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer, and the ACS estimates more than 50,000 people die of the disease every year.
Since the mid-1990s, colon cancer in people younger than age 45 has been on the rise. The reason is unknown, but some experts suspect a diet high in ultra-processed foods may be a factor.
Symptoms of colon cancer include diarrhea, constipation, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramps, gas and pain.
People are often reluctant to discuss colon cancer's symptoms with their doctor, Jennifer Inra, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told "Today."
"People are maybe sometimes uncomfortable about talking about that part of their body," Inra said. "There's an awareness among the public, but not enough people are being screened…People are sometimes nervous about the screening tests."
Who should get screened
Previous guidelines recommended people should be screened for colon cancer at age 50, but the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered its recommended age to 45 in 2021.
People younger than 45 should get screened if they have a family history of colorectal cancer or another risk factor that could increase their chances of developing the disease. Risk factors include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, alcohol use, and diets high in red meat and processed foods, according to the ACS.
Colon cancer is treatable if it's diagnosed early. To increase your chance of detecting problems as soon as they arise, maintain regular preventive healthcare checkups and talk to your doctor about getting screened.
With many cancers, early detection is key. Video visits have become a viable option for most people, and more physicians and therapists have added them as a service. Giddy telehealth makes it easy to get connected to a qualified healthcare professional who can help with a variety of conditions.