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Kelly McGillis of ‘Top Gun’ Now Keeps a Low Profile in a Rural Town Where She Does Not Have to Work

Titi Dokubo
Mar 12, 2022
07:40 A.M.
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Kelly McGillis rose to instant fame in the 1980s after starring as Charlie, Maverick's love interest in "Top Gun." She went on to have a successful stint as a leading lady in prominent movies.


The actress then decided to step away from the limelight to raise her children before returning to the movie industry for minor roles.

Years later, after divorcing husband Fred Tillman, coming out as a lesbian, married and divorced her partner, the actress settled down in North Carolina, where she feels lucky not to have to work.

Photo of Kelly McGillis in a scene from "Top Gun" in 1986 [left], Kelly McGillis leaving the Los Angeles Times on January 19, 2013 [right] | Source: Getty Images


Kelly McGillis decided to become an actress at an early age. While pursuing her chosen career, she worked as a waitress and took on a few stage roles before starring in "Reuben, Reuben."

In 1984, she became one of the promising new actors. After starring in "Witness" in 1985, producers took note of her, and the following year, she had her breakthrough role in "Top Gun."

The actress, professional counselor, and owner of Kelly's Caribbean Bar, Grill, and Brewery in Florida also starred in "The Accused" but was always focused on starring in plays.

Photo of Kelly McGillis on May 15, 1985 in London | Source: Getty Images



While in high school, McGillis decided she wanted to be an actress even though her parents never wanted that for her. At 16, she defied her parents and enrolled herself in Juilliard Drama School.

After getting into Juilliard, she performed in "Shakespeare In The Park," where she was spotted and offered a role in "Reuben, Reuben."

McGillis initially declined the role because she didn't want to be a movie star, and she wanted to finish her four-year course. After persuasions from her teachers, she took the role and eventually graduated from Juilliard.


Photo of Kelly McGillis in a scene from "Top Gun" in 1986 | Source: Getty Images

As her career picked up, she had a horrifying experience when two men sexually assaulted her at knifepoint. The experience led her to fall into drinking, tranquilizers, therapy, and acting.


The actress became dedicated to her work, and when she starred in "Top Gun," the movie was a box office hit. The film was followed by "The House On Carroll Street," among others.

Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in a scene from "Top Gun" in 1986 | Source: Getty Images



In 2009, McGillis came out publicly as a lesbian. In the past, she had taken on lesbian roles in some movies, and there were rumors of her sexuality.

She decided to come out because her children were now grown and had left home. McGillis never wanted the news to negatively impact her children's lives because they lived in a very conservative area.

A year after she came out, she married her first wife and last spouse, Melanie Leis. McGillis met Leis in 2000 when Leis was a bartender at McGillis's restaurant.

Photo of Kelly McGillis while in London in October 1987 | Source: Getty Images


Leis is a Berklee College of Music graduate and a regional sales executive. Like McGillis, Leis was previously married, and the two tied the knot in a civil ceremony in 2010.

McGillis was first married to Boyd Black, whom she met at Juilliard in 1979. They married the same year they met even though they were still students. But then the relationship was short-lived and divorced only two years later.

Kelly McGillis and Fred Tillman at the "Winter People" premiere on April 13, 1989 | Source: Getty Images


In 1989, she married Fred Tillman, a wealthy yacht salesman, and they moved to Florida, where they opened a restaurant called Kelly's.

They welcomed their first daughter, Kelsey Lauren, on May 24, 1990, and their second daughter, Sonora, on April 10, 1993, before their marriage ended in 2002.

Kelly McGillis, Fred Tillman, and Kelsey Tillman at the "Getting Even with Dad" premiere on May 15, 1994, in New York | Source: Getty Images



In the 1990s, McGillis gradually pulled away from acting and stayed out of the spotlight. She dedicated her life to her growing family while residing in Florida.

She chose to spend time with her kids when they were young, and her decision led to her getting a lot of interesting comments from people.

Even the tabloids were not left out as they referred to her hiatus as a decline and fall. Also, the media focused on her weight gain, to which she responded that having children meant gaining and losing weight.

Portrait of Kelly McGillis in 1989 | Source: Getty Images


When she took a voluntary exile from Hollywood, she was shocked as to what some people thought. She said,

"People think that I stopped existing. It was like I died."

Once her kids were eight and five, she started acting in minor roles for TV and theatre. McGillis was happy to accept more minor roles because it allowed her to do what she loved.

Portrait of Kelly McGillis on the set of "Cat Chaser" | Source: Getty Images


When she decided to take a break, her agents were "not happy" about it, but McGillis said that she had no regrets and would even do it all over again as she prioritizes her kids and family in her life.

McGillis wanted her kids to have a more normal environment than what New York or Hollywood would have provided.

She protected them and didn't want them growing up with the idea that they were more important because of their neighborhood or lifestyle.

the Brookly Academy of Music's Reopening of the Majestic Theater with a Performance of 'The Mahabharata' on October 12, 1987



Nowadays, McGillis has kept a low profile with little to nothing about her in the news. However, tabloids brought her name back into the headlines with "Top Gun: Maverick" set to premiere on May 27, 2022.

She had revealed that she would make a cameo if they contacted her for the sequel. Unfortunately, they never reached out to her, and she would not be starring in the movie.

In an interview, they asked McGillis if she would attend any of the promotional events for the film. McGillis revealed that she couldn't answer the question because she didn't know the future.


Kelly McGillis at the Mary Lambert Art Show in 2007 | Source: Getty Images

McGillis, who had not seen the sequel trailer, also admitted that movies were odd things for her, and she didn't keep in touch with anybody because movies bring people from different parts of the world together.


The actress, who now lives in North Carolina with her two children, altogether quit acting because she got sober and wanted to figure out who she was.

Her priorities changed when her daughters came into the picture, and quitting acting was never a significant decision. Currently, she's transitioning to a different phase in her life.

Kelly McGillis at the Jerry Bruckheimer Hand And Footprint Ceremony on May 17, 2010 in Hollywood | Source: Getty Images


Even though she hopes that the new transition comes with traveling, she's more of a home person and couldn't remember the last time she worked. She said,

"I feel really blessed that I don't have to work, you know? But I get the option to work, so I'm really blessed in that way."

McGillis revealed that in the early 2010s, she was diagnosed with alpha one antitrypsin disorder, an inherited disorder that could lead to lung disease and liver disease.

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