I had mixed feelings when Kirstie Alley passed away in December.
She was one of my birthday buddies and our first names are similar, something my mother loved to point out. I was never a big fan of Cheers, though I did watch it when I was younger, and I only watched Veronica’s Closet a little bit. When I think of her, I tend to think of her movie work first, primarily Look Who’s Talking and Summer School because we watched those flicks an ungodly number of times when I was a kid. I always enjoyed her whenever she showed up in something. I liked her.
In the last several years of her life, I didn’t like her, at least not on a Twitter level. Social media exposed her as the sort of person I did not care to know. Not just the scientology, but some of her personal and political opinions were just, well, garbage.
So, it was strange for me when she passed away because while I did respect her work, I didn’t really respect her all that much as a person anymore. I was sad, but not? Somewhere closer to unaffected. Like I should have been sadder than I was given that I used to be quite fond of her. Something like that. It’s hard to explain. It was even further complicated when the people who knew her mourned her as being so kind to them and then trying to reconcile that with some of the hateful shit she said online. I realize humans are complex creatures, but damn. I shouldn’t be this twisted up about someone I only experienced, but never knew.
I think those conflicted feelings are not uncommon when it comes to actors, particularly those who play roles that we like so well, but the person playing them turns out to be not so great. There are some people who can separate the artist from the art, but for others, it’s not so simple. The revelation that the actor is some kind of nasty less-than cannot be bested by the suspension of disbelief.
The actor doesn’t have to die for that conflict to kick in either.
Take Stephen Collins for example.
I’ve talked about how good he was in Tales of the Gold Monkey. And he spent multiple seasons playing the perfect father on 7th Heaven. But the reality is that the guy is garbage of the inappropriate touching variety. I can’t speak for 7th Heaven fans, but in my own experience watching Tales of the Gold Monkey, that legacy hangs over the whole show. It’s not something I can just forget about while I’m watching.
Nor should I.
There’s is nothing wrong with me not being able to separate the art from the artist, particularly if the artist is someone who has done something so despicable. I have conflicted feelings about enjoying Tales of the Gold Monkey because of Stephen Collins’s role in the show. How I deal with that is up to me to work out.
There are some people I will never give money or attention to again because of their actions (the wizarding TERF comes to mind). Those are the easy ones. It’s the ones like Kirstie Alley that are a little more difficult for me to reconcile.
People are complicated and so are their legacies.
And, yeah, that affects their art.