Why You Haven't Heard From Kelly McGillis

Back in the halcyon Hollywood days of the 1980s, Kelly McGillis looked set to be one of the biggest stars of her generation. From her performance as a reserved Amish woman thirsting for Harrison Ford in "Witness" to her smoldering chemistry with Tom Cruise in "Top Gun," McGillis was on a roll in the era of power ballad-heavy soundtracks and hairsprayed 'dos. Then, she just disappeared.

Much has been made of McGillis' absence from Hollywood, particularly in the wake of the release of "Top Gun: Maverick," from which she was noticeably omitted, replaced by Jennifer Connelly. It must be said, Hollywood isn't always kind to women once they reach a certain age. As has been the case with stars such as Bridget Fonda, McGillis' post-Hollywood appearance has been scrutinized and shamed to an alarming degree. In contrast to her former co-star Tom Cruise, for instance, McGillis is not reliving her heyday with career milestones and box office hits in her 60s. As silent movie icon Lillian Gish famously once quipped, "That's the way it is in Hollywood. The men get younger and the women get older."

But perhaps this distancing from the industry was more of a concerted effort rather than the result of something more ominous at play. Just because McGillis isn't starring in the next big blockbuster that doesn't mean she isn't super active in the causes and pursuits close to her heart. There's more to her than Amish brides and Charlie Blackwood: Here's the lowdown on what happened to Kelly McGillis.

Kelly McGillis' private family turmoil

Kelly McGillis was married to Fred Tillman, with whom she has two daughters, per Philadelphia Gay News. But the marriage began to disintegrate due to McGillis' drug and alcohol misuse, as well as her struggles with coming out. "I met Fred, and I thought, Fred will protect me. Nobody will ever hurt me again," she explained. "And that only worked for so long because the fact is that I wasn't being true to who I was and what I am." 

Due to his ex's personal issues, Tillman was awarded custody of the children and McGillis went to rehab. Too unwell to act on screen, she took a long hiatus from the industry. During this period, McGillis began working in the hospitality industry, having bought a restaurant in Florida, per The Guardian. The outlet notes that diners were shocked to see Charlie Blackwood from "Top Gun" serving them.

After recovering from addiction, she devoted her life to her kids, realizing that they were more important to her than preserving her acting career. "It didn't become a priority; what became the priority initially was raising my girls and being the best sober parent I could be," she told Entertainment Tonight. Speaking with The Oklahoman, she explained that she felt incredibly fortunate to have been given opportunities in Hollywood, but reconnecting with her kids gave her a fresh start: "You know, I haven't worked in so long because I took 10 years to raise my kids, and for me, it's starting over."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Kelly McGillis came out as gay

For many years, Kelly McGillis was made to feel ashamed of her sexual orientation. As such, she did everything she could to hide this aspect of her identity from the public. "For the longest time, when Mel [her then-partner] and I would be out, I said, 'You can't possibly touch me in public' ... It embarrassed me," she told Philadelphia Gay News. Tragically, she said that she had long believed a sexual assault in her youth was punishment for being gay.

But once she was in her 40s, McGillis decided to live her truth and embrace her identity, proudly and without internalized homophobia. In 2009, she publicly came out as a lesbian; when a reporter asked her if she was interested in dating men or women, she simply replied, "Definitely a woman," per People. In an interview with Access (via Today) that year, she said that the pressure to stay in the closet as an actor became too much to bear. For instance, she was constantly warned not to come out, supposedly because doing so would hinder her future career prospects, per Village Voice. But McGillis has no regrets.

As she revealed to Advocate, she felt conflicted about being hailed as a role model following her coming out. Rather, she joked that she wanted to be seen "as a human being doing the best I can with what I've been given, and as someone who muddled through somehow and didn't kill anybody."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

She divorced her wife

Once out of the closet, Kelly McGillis no longer felt the need to hide her long-term lover from the public. Since 2000, she had been in a relationship with Melanie Leis, whom she first met at her Florida restaurant. "I started working at the restaurant while Kell was out of town working on a movie," Leis told The New York Times. "One day I looked up, and there she was. I did not see her from across the room or anything like that." The pair fell deeply in love, but the relationship soon turned volatile.

Both women were struggling with substance misuse and the lovers had to part ways for the sake of their growth and wellbeing. "I always wanted to be with Mell, with all my heart and soul, but at a certain point, unless she was willing to do some work on herself, I wasn't willing to stick around," McGillis admitted.

However, the twosome soon reconciled and Leis popped the question. In 2010, the couple wed in a small ceremony attended by 11 friends. McGillis told Advocate that Leis had asked her to be her wife for 10 years, but putting a ring on it wasn't all that important for the "Top Gun" star. "I can't say that it was a political move," she said. "I did it out of respect for somebody that I loved very much." According to The Sun, the couple called it quits in 2013, but both remain highly secretive about the breakup.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

She made a return to low budget projects and theater

Following the critically acclaimed "The Accused," in which Kelly McGillis plays the challenging role of the District Attorney assigned with prosecuting the men who raped Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster), she made a series of TV movies in contrast to her previously high-grossing fare. In 2000, she appeared in the low-budget Australian film "The Monkey's Mask," playing the love interest of another woman. By that point, McGillis hadn't come out yet, but at the time she told The Guardian that she didn't care if the film and its steamy sex scenes led to speculation about her sexuality.

She also appeared in Season 5 of "The L Word" in 2008, playing a closeted army colonel in the U.S. military, per Advocate. The plot was timely since the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, which forbade military personnel from coming out as LGBT+, wouldn't be repealed until three years later, per Human Rights Campaign. As noted by Huffpost, the role thrust McGillis back into the public eye.

She also returned to her first love, the theater. In 2010, she embarked on a U.K. tour of Terrence McNally's play "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune." As she explained to The Oklahoman, "That's my background ... I find that the challenges and the skill level that it takes to do a Shakespeare play or to do O'Neill is incredibly different, and the discipline is different than acting in a movie, or for television."

The actor left mainstream Hollywood behind

There are many actors who decided to leave Hollywood behind. For Kelly McGillis, the trappings of stardom just weren't for her. Speaking with Philadelphia Gay News, she said that she was compelled to leave due to her unwillingness to meet the restrictive demands of Hollywood, having altered her appearance in the past to appease the industry's beauty standards. "I don't know if anybody will really hire me, because the bottom line is I'm no longer willing to sacrifice who I am for what I do," she said. "I did that for a long, long time. I had a boob job because I thought that's what I should do ... I thought, 'This is such a friggin' lie.'"

Despite appearing in "Top Gun," where she schmoozed with A-listers Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, McGillis hasn't maintained any high profile Hollywood friendships. She was, however, devastated, by the death of the film's director, Tony Scott, as she revealed to Yahoo!. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, she elaborated on her decision to move away from conventional filmmaking. "It wasn't like a major decision that I made to leave, it was just that other things became more important," she said.

She told Advocate that there were few substantial roles available to women in their 50s, which buttressed her decision to abandon Tinseltown. Nevertheless, the actor is not lacking in gratitude for the opportunities her fame afforded her in her heyday, as she told The Guardian in 2001.

Kelly McGillis was the victim of a home invasion

In 2016, Kelly McGillis was the victim of a horrific home invasion. As she revealed in a lengthy Facebook post (via People), she returned home to find that a woman had broken into her house with a young child in tow. The woman, McGillis explained, began yelling at her, erroneously claiming that she had been stalking her on Twitter.

McGillis was angry that her neighbors didn't come to her rescue despite her cries for help, telling WLOS (via Yahoo!), "I feel you have an obligation when I hear 'Help! Help! Help!' to either help them first or call 911 if it is a dangerous situation. But to flat out ignore it..." According to Fox News, the incident led to McGillis carrying a concealed weapon. The woman who broke in, Laurence Marie Dorn, was charged with burglary, stalking, assault, and battery. As reported by Blue Ridge Now, she was sentenced to 18 months probation after being found guilty. McGillis expressed sympathy for the woman's daughter, who was present during the crime, lamenting that she was a victim of circumstance.

Per Philadelphia Gay News, this sadly wasn't the first time McGillis was attacked in her home. Years earlier, she and her girlfriend were sexually assaulted by an intruder, leading to the dissolution of the couple's relationship. The trauma has remained with McGillis, who conceded, "I never got over that." Following the attack, she has been active in working for rape advocacy groups, per The Telegraph.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Now, Kelly McGillis teaches

It's not unusual for once world famous celebs to get regular jobs. Away from the glitz and glam of Tinseltown, Kelly McGillis embarked on an entirely different career — as a teacher. Considering that one of McGillis' most famous roles, as Charlie in "Top Gun," saw her teaching Maverick and Iceman, she's certainly had enough prep for this newfound career. As the actor revealed to Yahoo!, she eschewed a Hollywood career to instead impart her expertise to aspiring actors at the Asheville School of Film in Carolina. "I feel it is my time to give back and that's something that I know how to do," she explained of the decision.

Rather than prepare students for prospective acting careers, however, she prefers to give them transferable skills. McGillis, a Juilliard alumni who once said that her "goal was to be a New York theater actress," is interested in the nuances of performance. "I don't really teach them about preparing for a career in acting," she told Smashing Interviews. "What I do is I really try to improve their skills as actors. I teach speech and voice, and I teach scene study." 

In 2013, she participated in classes for the Meisner Acting Conservatory, where she taught students how to prepare for acting out Shakespeare's works, per Mountain Xpress. Additionally, she has led seminars aimed at enabling students to enhance their communication skills to maximize their performances, as noted on the Asheville School website. She even taught at a community school in Reading, Pennsylvania.

The actor was body-shamed

As with many women in Hollywood of a certain age, Kelly McGillis has faced intense scrutiny over the fact that she no longer looks how she did in the '80s. For instance, British tabloid The Sun published paparazzi snaps of a supposedly "unrecognizable" McGillis running errands, contrasting her appearance to her glam looks in "Top Gun." 

Body-positive influencer Alex Light called out the actor's critics on Instagram, highlighting the apparent sexism of the media's preoccupation with women simply, well, aging. "We're allowed to age, lose weight, gain weight, grow gray hair, dye our hair ... do whatever we want without it being scrutinized," she argued. "Would this story have been as interesting if it was a man? I suspect not. This is so tied up in misogyny."

In the past, McGillis has called out those who sought to shame her for aging naturally. "Listen. At 43, I don't give a s*** what people's expectations of me are. It took me a long time to learn that," she told The Guardian back in 2001, adding that it's not her responsibility to meet other people's restrictive expectations of her. "It's a stupid way to live your life," she said.

As for aging gracefully, McGillis is spitting straight facts. "You know my goal is to be like Jessica Tandy — to be an older woman and really just secure in myself and I don't want to have to try to be 30 for the rest of my life," she told Yahoo!

Kelly McGillis wasn't asked back for Top Gun: Maverick

"Top Gun: Maverick" was one of the most anticipated — not to mention highest-grossing — films of 2022. But Kelly McGillis' absence has been palpable (as was that of fellow '80s queen Meg Ryan). While Tom Cruise was intent on bringing back Val Kilmer's Iceman for the long awaited follow-up to the'80s flick, that same enthusiasm wasn't reserved for McGillis.

Back in 2014, she told the Independent that she was keen to appear in the sequel, even if in a brief cameo appearance. Speaking with Entertainment Tonight five years later, however, she said that she wasn't asked back for the sequel. Director Joseph Kosinski told Insider that McGillis wasn't cast because he wanted to breathe new life into the flick as opposed to being stuck in the past.

Replaced by Jennifer Connelly, who is over a decade younger than McGillis and Cruise, the former believed her omission to be an inherently sexist and ageist one. "I'm old and I'm fat and I look age-appropriate for what my age is, and that is not what that whole scene is about," she bluntly told Entertainment Tonight (Vanity Fair). "But... I'd much rather feel absolutely secure in my skin and who and what I am at my age as opposed to placing a value on all that other stuff." Cracked argued that excluding McGillis is "transparently insulting in the context of nostalgia-baiting reunions in which all the dudes are invited back, but the women clearly aren't."

Kelly McGillis has been working to help addicts

Giving back is of utmost importance to Kelly McGillis. As such, she has in recent years devoted her life to working full time at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in South Jersey, where she predominantly supports other women, per NJ. "I work a five-day, 40-hour week ... It's just an amazing gift to see people come in hopeless and to be given some hope," she told The Oklahoman. The actor highlighted that it was a joy to give those who feel dejected within society a renewed lust for life, a change that she explained not only aids the patients but their loved ones, too.

But it's not just the patients at the clinic who are given renewed desire to live; McGillis' work has also given her a new lease of life. "Because I had my struggles with alcohol and drugs, I can help other women who have had the same problems," she told Smashing Interviews.

As a recovering addict, McGillis has highlighted the importance of helping those most marginalized in society. In an interview with Philadelphia Gay News, she opened up about her past addictions, noting that when she herself left rehab she felt alone and thus had to facilitate her recovery without support. "When I got out, I had nowhere to go, and I found myself at a halfway house in Mohnton, Pennsylvania," she explained, "and I thought, okay, I'm just going to stay here and learn how to not drink and not do drugs."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

These days she prefers the simple life

Don't expect Kelly McGillis to be soaking up the Californian sun and hanging with A-listers anytime soon. She is far more interested in leading a tranquil existence away from the spotlight. As noted by Advocate, she has eschewed Hollywood for a quiet life in the small town of Collingwood, New Jersey where she enjoys the pleasures of a cottagecore idyll. "I garden. I knit," she told Smashing Interviews. "I have three dogs, and two of them are brand new puppies, so I hike with them."

Speaking with the Independent, she admitted that her life would be easier in terms of career prospects if she lived in a big city, but she is no longer willing to sacrifice her personal happiness and peace for a few movie roles. According to Celebrity Net Worth, McGillis has a net worth of $4 million. Although modest compared to many of her contemporaries, the actor's moderate wealth and past success have enabled her to do as she pleases, a luxury that she acknowledges is not afforded to most.

"I am a home person. I'm really rooted in my home life ... I can't remember the last time I worked," she told Entertainment Tonight. "I feel really blessed that I don't have to work ... Not many people get that option later in life, so I feel very lucky." It's been nearly 40 years since McGillis was thrust into the spotlight, but now she's dimming the lights in favor of living her best life.