Kirstie Alley, who died aged 71 on Monday, dressed up as Cheers predecessor Shelley Long “to break the ice and get off to a fresh start” she told PEOPLE

Kirstie Alley had big shoes to fill when she joined Cheers in 1987, so she dressed like her predecessor, Shelley Long.

“I wanted to break the ice and get off to a fresh start,” the actress told PEOPLE in an interview at the time.

When Alley arrived on set, she wore a blond wig, brightened her dark eyebrows and donned a “goody-two-shoes” dress, all of which endeared her to the Cheers cast, as she made her entry onto the hit show as its new female lead, Rebecca Howe.

It worked too. “If you ever want to leave,” co-star John Ratzenberger told Alley at a cast party after her first week of filming, “you’ll have to shoot your way out.” To help her do it, Ratzenberger and co-star George Wendt gifted Alley with a shotgun as a welcome gift.

Ted Danson was just as enamored with Alley’s arrival, telling PEOPLE: “Stand us next to each other and it spells sex. I mean, sparks fly.”

Alley’s role on Cheers ultimately served as a breakout for the star who died Monday aged 71 from colon cancer, earning her a Golden Globe for best actress and an Emmy for outstanding lead actress for her part in the Boston-based series in 1991.

At the time, Alley downplayed her easy transition into the role (and sex appeal), as she embarked on her journey as the acerbic businesswoman Howe, adding a different vibe to the half-hour comedy show after Long’s more intellectually-minded Diane Chambers.

“I see someone with a crooked nose; my right eye’s bigger than my left, and sometimes I have zits,” she told PEOPLE.

Her fellow Cheers alums are left to remember their often self-deprecating and forever-gifted star with fondness.

“I was on a plane today and did something I rarely do,” Danson told PEOPLE in a statement on Monday. “I watched an old episode of Cheers. It was the episode where Tom Berenger proposes to Kirstie, who keeps saying no, even though she desperately wants to say yes. Kirstie was truly brilliant in it.”

He continued, “Her ability to play a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown was both moving and hysterically funny. She made me laugh 30 years ago when she shot that scene, and she made me laugh today just as hard. As I got off the plane, I heard that Kirstie had died. I am so sad and so grateful for all the times she made me laugh. I send my love to her children. As they well know, their mother had a heart of gold. I will miss her.”


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