Kirstie's Next Act

updated 03/07/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

"I love telling stories," says Kirstie Alley, "and I've had a wacky life." Reason enough for a celeb to jump on the memoir-writing bandwagon, but Alley, 54, also had another goal in mind when she sat down to write How to Lose Your Ass and Regain Your Life: She hoped, she says, to document "the resurrection of me."

Not long ago, the former Cheers star and her 203-lb. girth were a subject of tabloid jeers. Today, along with her much-talked-about Showtime sitcom Fat Actress, due March 7, she's a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig and says she has made a promising start ("16 lbs. plus") on the weight-loss program she hopes will get her to her target, about 145 lbs. Living in L.A. and Maine with the children she shares with ex-husband Parker Stevenson—Lillie, 10, and William True, 12—the Wichita, Kans., native says she's sticking to her Jenny Craig diet ("You have a little chocolate--and cheesecakes—I do not feel deprived") and doing yoga, Pilates and weight training. In her book, she dishes about subjects including food, friends, fame-and John Travolta.

In 2003, just before her Pier 1 pitchwoman gig ended and three years after her NBC sitcom Veronica's Closet was canceled, Kirstie was in a slump; only her weight was soaring.

New Year's Eve in Wichita, Kans. Ass size of neighboring state, Oklahoma. Children flown to Los Angeles to have New Year's with their father. Ate massive quantities of Santa-head frosted sugar cookies, cheese fondue, steak tartare, Key lime pie, homemade chicken and noodles, with Cinnabon chaser, and 50 or 60 other mystery foods. Then went to dinner.

Went to Vietnamese restaurant, "Ah-So." Watched old movies on Turner Classic Network, reflected on how body got whalelike. How men were not falling over me in last year.

Big New Year's resolution—to find new way to reduce ass and to re-create once-beautiful life. Also, to look for prospect to have sex with in future.

Though she was just a few months from successfully pitching Fat Actress, her financial status was shaky:

January 12th, 2004

My birthday. Got call from accountant. Between our combined errors...oops, owe IRS huge amount of extra taxes.

Noticed I was fat, ugly, and old. Now, fat, ugly, old, and poor. Ate nothing. Hid in bed under covers for next 5 days, lost 8 pounds. Birthday present to self.

It was the sort of life scenario she'd feared growing up in a family of five in Kansas, where her father, Robert, was a lumber company owner and her mother, Lillian, a housewife.

My mother was basically the neighborhood "counselor." We left for school and one or more of her "patients" would drop by for life advice.

Around noon, she would exchange the coffee for Coca-Colas. In our house we were allowed one soft drink—Coca-Cola. In fact, we had a "Coke man." He delivered cases and cases to the house weekly. If I asked for 7-Up or Orange Crush or, God forbid, Pepsi-Cola, I would get the same mantra, "We drink Cokes—we do not drink 7-Up, Orange Crush, or Pepsi-Cola. The people who drink Pepsi are the people who drive Buicks. We don't drive Buicks and we don't drink Pepsi. We drink Coke and we drive Chryslers and DeSotos."

My mother spoke in a very assertive manner. As sure as President Eisenhower spoke of the Cold War, my mother spoke of Coca-Cola and models of cars.

My personal favorite drink was grape Kool-Aid. But my mother made it clear that Kool-Aid was a poor people's drink, and that we were middle class and thus we didn't have to drink Kool-Aid, we could afford Coca-Colas. [So I worked out a] mantra.... "When I grow up, I shall not be poor. I shall force myself to hate grape Kool-Aid, and I shall display my Coca-Colas like Emmys so that all will be aware that I am rich—or at least middle class."

Though she writes that she developed a taste for another, very illegal kind of coke in her twenties, Kirstie says she shunned drugs until then.

I was very opposed to drug use. Hated the smell of pot and hated being around pot smokers. Too stupid, too slow, yes, well, too stoned.

Would never have thought of any drug in needle form. Hell, I used to bawl when I had to get a simple vaccination. So no, nothing would be shot into my pure veins. LSD was definitely out, too. Two of my girlfriends fried themselves on acid in college. One was basically left retarded, the other dead.

Because I was always so high naturally, people would comment frequently, "Are you coked out?" "Are you high?" I'd say, "No, why?" And they'd say, "God, you have so much energy and you're so funny." I got the idea somewhere along the way that if I ever ran out of humor or energy, I should remember to give "blow" a chance.

In 1976, Kirstie first tried cocaine at a wedding reception with her boyfriend, Carl.

I went into the bathroom with a friend of Carl's. She was a very good teacher. I was a very receptive pupil. She laid out two, 3-inch lines of white powder.

"Okay," she said, as she rolled up a $100 bill, "just put this up to your nose and sniff all the way down the line like this."

Up went the $100 bill to her nose, then sniffff.

"See?" she said. "Easy, you try."

Okay, sniffff. Yikes. Kind of harsh.

Kind of smells like Novocain from the dentist's office.

"Good," she said. "Now rub the excess powder on your gums for an excellent freeze."

Oh God, yes sister, I need an excellent freeze...whatever that meant.

"Cool?" she asked.

Oh God, yes. Cool as a Popsicle, Sisterbelle.

"Cool," I answered.

We went back out into the raucous country club crowd. I felt no different.

Cowboy Carl spotted me.

"Did you do it?"

"Yeah."

"How'd you like it?"

"Yeah, it was cool."

"Cool," he said, "let's dance."

We began to dance. And about 2 minutes, I began to feel as if I were going out of my body.

She developed a cocaine habit that lasted for "about 3 years," she writes—until a friend introduced her to Scientology, a religion that she shares with Travolta (a longtime pal). Twenty—five years later, with Showtime's decision on Fat Actress pending, she found herself at his 50th-birthday blowout—one that she says gave her perspective on her life:

April 7th, 2004

Went to best friend John Travolta's 50th birthday party in Mexico. Went on private plane—was fattest girl on plane, then at party. Was very introverted around other thin stars. Had not smoked in 5 years, but when offered a smoke by prince from Jordan, and after three shots of tequila, decided to partake. Did not feel so fat when was drinking tequila and smoking cigarettes. Wondered why hadn't married John Travolta.

Back in Los Angeles a few weeks later, the frustrations of peddling the sitcom based on her own zany life provoked a minor tantrum:

April 20th, 2004

Showtime says want Fat Actress but can't give definitive "pick up" until June. Get angry and throw computer on floor. After purchasing new Mac Titanium, decide to put attention on other fat roles. Decide to do documentary on self being fat and self getting back to self. Decide to get honest and straight with self. No more lies to self. Self sick of lies. Have to eat big cake to get over self-sickness.

But then, an artist must know how to spice things up by bending the truth. Ever since first-grade show-and-tell, Kirstie had worked on her story-spinning:

There were very interesting children in my class. One kid, Kip, now and then brought a flask of bourbon to school and sipped it on the monkey bars at recess. Then there was Larry, whose mother only had one arm. Then there was Linda, whose brother had been run over by her father and dragged down the street.

By comparison I lived a flat, boring existence. But I wanted something to tell, and so on one Friday at 2:30 in the afternoon, the show-and-tell slot, I stood before the class and shared a piece of my exciting life.

"My grandmother, Annabelle, raises white rats. You might not know this, but rats are very, very smart. My grandmother has taught her rats to come and fetch and to dance. She dresses them in little homemade clothes that she and her quilting club make. They have hats and skirts and pants and dresses and even tiny little rat shoes.

"My grandmother has taken her rats all over the world so people can see their act. I would have had her come here with them today, but presently she is in Switzerland with them. Well, that's it. I know you'd really like to see the rats. Maybe next year. Maybe around Christmas, when Grandma dresses them like Santa and his reindeer—their reindeer suits are swell—I'll bring them in. Thank you."

I don't think I have, to this day, felt what that moment felt like. A fixed attention on me, an awe of what I was saying. A complete command of the entire first grade class, including Miss Boulby, who looked nothing short of astonished. All this time she'd had pure gold in her classroom, a student whose grandmother had a road show of traveling costumed dancing rats.

Children treated me differently from there on out—more respect, more reverence. I became the opinion leader of the class. I was on cloud nine, hell, cloud ten. And all because of nine tiny rodents.

Months later, [I discovered the downside when] my mother and father returned from "conferences" at South Hillside School. You know, a sort of "verbal" report card. My dad said, "Kirstie Lou, have you been fibbing at school?"
Fibbing? Fibbing? Define fibbing exactly—fibbing, oh god, no, Daddy Dearest, whatever do you mean?

As Kirstie discovered on Sept. 20, 2004, however, you don't need white rats to feel like a goddess: On that day, she started shooting Fat Actress, and her mood lifted. Now she says, "All great humor comes from tragedy." She puts her posterior in that category: It's "a tragedy, but it's getting less and less tragic every day."

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