How Kirstie Alley Lost Herself in Scientology

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kristie-alley-scientology - Credit: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
kristie-alley-scientology - Credit: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

In 2018, Cheers and Look Who’s Talking actress Kirstie Alley showed up in a Church of Scientology publication called Freewinds.

The magazine is named after Scientology’s private cruise ship, which sails the Caribbean and caters to wealthy church members who know it’s the only place where they can receive the highest level of “auditing” that Scientology offers: OT VIII.

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Short for “Operating Thetan Level Eight,” OT VIII is the pinnacle of achievement for any Scientologist, and reaching it requires advanced courses, interrogations, counseling sessions, going “Clear” (or conquering the “reactive mind”), and other steps that can add up to $1 million or more.

“Now here I stand a new OT VIII shiny, fresh, and calm…I now fully have the confront that puts me right up that damn confront scale with other Scientology Freedom Fighters!” Alley told the magazine.

Scientologists are told that if they can reach OT VIII, they will be “cause over matter, energy, space, and time,” which translates to various superhuman abilities, including being impervious to disease.

The reality, however, is that Scientologists never demonstrate the superpowers that the controversial religion’s founder L. Ron Hubbard promised when he dreamed up the OT levels in the 1960s, and OTs end up being all too mortal.

Yesterday, Kirstie Alley’s son and daughter announced on social media that their mother had died after a short battle with cancer. She was 71.

“She was surrounded by her closest family and fought with great strength, leaving us with a certainty of her never-ending joy of living and whatever adventure lies ahead,” they wrote. “As iconic as she was on screen, she was an even more amazing mother and grandmother.”

A request for comment about Alley’s career as a Scientologist did not produce a response from Church of Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw.

Alley was one of Scientology’s most well known celebrities since joining in 1979 after she credited its drug rehab program with helping her kick a cocaine habit. That year she arrived in Los Angeles and enrolled at a Narconon center, Scientology’s rehab network. Founded in 1966, Narconon is a cold-turkey program that involves long hours in a sauna and increasingly massive intakes of vitamins, but from a high of 22 centers in the 1990s, Scientology only operates five of the facilities in the U.S. today after a series of lawsuits and highly-publicized patient deaths.

“I thought I was going to overdose almost every time,” she told Entertainment Tonight in 2012. “I would snort the coke, then I would sit there, I’d take my pulse [thinking], ‘I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying.’ Who would keep doing it?”

She credited reading Hubbard’s 1950 book Dianetics, which started the Scientology movement, with ending her cocaine addiction.

“Somehow I got through it, and I thought either [Scientology] is the world’s biggest scam, or I thought this is how I am going to get rid of this hideous compulsion,” she said.

She’s been a vocal proponent of the church ever since, willing to lash out at the organization’s detractors.

Alley was married to actor Parker Stevenson from 1983 to 1997, and when they split he blamed his reluctance to be involved in Scientology as a factor.

“In numerous conversations with me, Kirstie has threatened to ‘bury me’ in legal fees, and she pursues her threat… Kirstie initially wanted us to mediate our property, support and custody issues before a respected member of the Church of Scientology. I attended one five-hour meeting on December 28, 1996, and discovered that neither the mediator, nor Kirstie, had any knowledge of the law regarding the issues,” Stevenson said in a divorce affidavit.

In 2013, when actress Leah Remini made her defection public, Alley was immediately critical of her, denying Remini’s claims, for example, that Scientology was notorious for retaliating against people who leave.

“First of all, I just want everyone to know I have hundreds of friends who have come into Scientology and left Scientology. You are not shunned, you’re not chased. All that stuff’s bullshit,” she told radio host Howard Stern. “When you’re generalizing and when your goal is to malign and to say things about an entire group… when you decide to make a blanket statement that Scientology is evil, you are my enemy.”

She told Stern that Remini’s denunciations of Scientology were “repulsive.”

“I have blocked her on Twitter. Because she’s a bigot!” Alley, who was known to block whistleblowers and journalists who report on Scientology on Twitter, said.

The two would go on to feud publicly for years. But Remini tells Rolling Stone she takes no pleasure in the news of Alley’s death.

“The news of Kirstie Alley’s passing is very sad,” she says.

Alley is the third high-profile Scientology celeb to die of cancer in the last couple years, joining Kelly Preston (July 12, 2020) and Chick Corea (February 9, 2021).

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was openly critical of western medicine, and Scientologists are known for seeking alternatives to standard medical care.

“While it has been reported that Kirstie sought conventional cancer treatment, which gave her a fighting chance, the majority of Scientologists do not seek treatment until it’s too late,” Remini says. “Scientologists are convinced they can cure themselves of diseases like cancer. It’s one of the more sinister things they promise. And because Scientology claims to be an exact science, not a faith, its members are brainwashed into believing these false claims as guarantees.”

Scientology’s own publications indicate that Alley made steady progress through the “Bridge to Total Freedom,” the progression of increasingly expensive courses and levels leading to Operating Thetan deification.

A church magazine reported that in 2014 Alley had gone to the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida, to take part in the “Super Power Rundowns” at the city block-sized edifice known as the Flag Building, which church leader David Miscavige had opened the year before.

Also in 2014, Alley’s feud with Remini spilled over into ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Alley had previously been on the show and had formed a tight friendship with dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy. But when Remini was on the show in 2014 and became friends with Chmerkovskiy, he said that Alley had appeared to cut off ties with him because of it.

“I’m not judging people by their religion. I’m Jewish. I don’t really believe in science fiction, but whatever,” he remarked on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live!

In 2018, Alley made her trip to the Freewinds to reach the top of the Bridge, OT VIII, and was featured in the ship’s magazine.

By then, Remini had already aired two seasons of her A&E documentary series Scientology and the Aftermath, with a third season coming in 2019.

Then, in February of this year, Remini and Alley clashed again, this time over the war in Ukraine as Alley increasingly used her social media accounts to voice MAGA-friendly and anti-vaccination talking points. In 2020, she appeared to go full QAnon with tweets like, “WHERE WE GO ONE WE GO ALL – I like it,” and “The ‘process’ EVIL NANCY PELOSI speaks of is an attempt at a presidential takeover of a President by glorified BAKER ACT .. don’t believe a word that comes out of this witche’s mouth..and yes she gives witches a bad name.”

After the Ukraine invasion began, she tweeted, “I don’t know what’s real or what is fake in this war. So I won’t be commenting. I’ll pray instead,” and then deleted it.

Chmerkovskiy, who was pinned down in Kyiv at the time, responded at his Instagram account: “Dear Kirstie, we haven’t spoken in a while, but I clearly remember being right next to you while you were organizing trucks of aid during Hurricane Sandy and I remember all that you were saying to me about situations where innocent are suffering. That same energy is needed right now. No one needs your prayer if you don’t know what’s real or fake.”

Remini, meanwhile, pointed out that she wasn’t sure what Alley was referring to, since Scientologists don’t “pray” to anything.

In more deleted tweets, Alley appeared to hit back at both Chmerkovskiy and Remini, saying that Remini “shoots her mouth off and has an IQ of about 75.”

Remini says she’s thinking today of Alley’s children, True Stevenson, 30, and Lillie Stevenson, 28, who are both Scientologists.

“Although Scientologists don’t believe in prayers, my prayers do go out to her two children, who are now without their mom,” she says. “I hope they can, one day, free themselves of this dangerous and toxic organization.”

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