The death of actress Kirstie Alley—best known for her role in the hit sitcom Cheers and for her work in films like Village of the Damned and Drop Dead Gorgeous—has sparked renewed criticism of the Church of Scientology's alleged promise of cancer immunity.
Alley died earlier this week at the age of 71. The cause of death was colon cancer, according to her children, who noted the cancer had only been discovered recently.
But her death has brought more criticism toward Scientology and its practices, given the Church's stance on cancer treatment.
Alley was raised Methodist but joined the Church of Scientology in 1979. By 2018, she had obtained Operating Thetan (OT) Level VIII, which is the most advanced OT, or spiritual state of being.
The Church teaches OT doctrine in eight separate stages, or Levels; however, the Church claims there are actually fifteen Levels, and critics argue the Church uses the missing Levels to incentivize believers into giving more money to the Church in order to be able to experience them once they are finally released.
Alley herself explained her OT level during a 2015 appearance on shock jock Howard Stern's program, telling him that her status—at the time Level VII—"means that you have gotten rid of all the things that would create aberrated behavior in you that you didn't want."
Included in that "aberrated behavior" are all kinds of illnesses, including cancers, and the Church takes much of its doctrine from the writings of founder and science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, whose views on illness and cancer continue to generate controversy decades after his death.
In his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health—a canonical text in Scientology—Hubbard expresses his belief that the majority of human ailments are psychosomatic and prescribes what would become Scientology's controversial counseling (or auditing) techniques as the cure for almost all illnesses.
While the Church has in recent years pushed back against any and all notions it dissuades its members from seeking medical treatment from qualified professionals, high-profile critics—including former Scientologist Leah Remini—have said otherwise.
Alley's fellow Scientologist, the late actress Kelly Preston, also died of cancer. And while Preston had been confirmed to have received treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston as well as other medical centers, Alley, who had apparently been undergoing treatment in Florida, apparently did largely adhere to Church teachings on the matter of medical treatment.
Notably, Alley cited her Scientology beliefs as the reason why she did not reprise her role as Rebecca Howe—the character she played on Cheers—on episodes of Frasier, because the series was centered on the field of medical psychiatry, which the Church has publicly admonished.
Both Alley and Preston's affiliations with the Church have been scrutinized since journalist Yashar Ali pointed out, in the wake of Alley's death, that the Church promises its members that the most faithful become impervious to cancer.
The Church of Scientology has been described by government inquiries, international parliamentary bodies, scholars, and numerous superior court judgments as both a dangerous cult and a manipulative profit-making business.
The news of the circumstances of Alley's death has reignited those criticisms.
During her life, Alley repeatedly used her profile to defend the Church from what she saw as blatant misrepresentations of its teachings.
In her 2012 book The Art of Men (I Prefer Mine al Dente), Alley wrote that while there are "real things that attack the body, including cancer, diabetes, polio, viruses, infections, encephalitis, and the bubonic plague," Scientology "deals with the spirit and its effect on the mind and the body."
Her devotion to Church teachings will be remembered during a memorial service at the Scientology headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, according to The Daily Mail.
The news outlet noted colon cancer is often a "silent killer" because symptoms "often don't present themselves until a patient is beyond a cure." While its reporters confirmed Alley was receiving treatment at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa before her death, it is still unclear how long she had cancer before she was diagnosed.