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The Life of ‘Top Gun’ Star’ Kelly McGillis 34 Years after the Movie’s Release

Rodolfo Vieira
Jun 16, 2020
10:18 A.M.

Time goes by, and everything changes, especially people. Some of them, though, change more than others, not only on the inside but on the outside, as well.

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Kelly McGillis, the actress who portrayed flight instructor Charlie in the famous 1986 film "Top Gun" (starring Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, and Tom Skerritt), is one of those people.

During the early years of her career, she was labeled as a rising star and a very promising actress, but, unlike Cruise and Kilmer, she smoothly walked away from the spotlight.

"Top Gun" star Kelly McGillis in 1986 and now | Photo: Getty Images

"Top Gun" star Kelly McGillis in 1986 and now | Photo: Getty Images

TOP GUN

"Top Gun" was, and still is, one of the most famous and beloved films in history, and it helped Cruise become the star he is today. In fact, his famous line "I feel the need... the need for speed" has turned into a classic.

However, Hollywood wasn't as kind to McGillis as it was to the "Mission Impossible" actor, even though she had already won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA nomination at the time for her role in "Witness."

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Tom Cruis as Lieutenant Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell and Kelly McGillis as Charlotte 'Charlie' Blackwood in a promotional portrait for "Top Gun" | Photo: Paramount Pictures/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Tom Cruis as Lieutenant Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell and Kelly McGillis as Charlotte 'Charlie' Blackwood in a promotional portrait for "Top Gun" | Photo: Paramount Pictures/Archive Photos/Getty Images

FALLING BEHIND

Her portrayal of Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood in "Top Gun" was highly praised. It helped her land a role alongside "Silence of the Lambs" star Jodie Foster in "The Accused."

McGillis recalled coming home late one evening and seeing a woman running down the hallway towards her.

Sadly, that would be one of the last times McGillis' fans would see her involved in major projects before she faded a little into the background. Though she still got parts in "At First Sight," "No One Can Hear You," and "North."

Kelly McGillis as Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood in "Top Gun" in 1986 | Photo: CBS via Getty Images

Kelly McGillis as Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood in "Top Gun" in 1986 | Photo: CBS via Getty Images

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Her performances failed to impress, to say the least, and were nowhere near the level they used to be. Nevertheless, she continued working, just not at the same level as co-stars Cruise and Kilmer.

McGillis decided to take a 5-year break from Hollywood between 2001 and 2006, and upon her return, she was offered the leading role in "Black Widower," a TV film directed by Christopher Leitch.

Portrait of actress Kelly McGillis in 1986 | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of actress Kelly McGillis in 1986 | Photo: Getty Images

COMING OUT

After that, she made appearances in other TV projects, such as "The Innkeepers," "Z Nation," and "The L Word," with the latter being the most surprising considering that she came out as a lesbian the year after, in 2009.

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At the time, the actress claimed that she was "definitely" on the lookout for a relationship with a woman and that coming to terms with her sexual orientation was a long process, which started when she was only 12 years old.

Kelly McGillis during a portrait photo session in 1988 in Beverly Hills, California | Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

Kelly McGillis during a portrait photo session in 1988 in Beverly Hills, California | Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

While in a civil union with a Philadelphia sales executive between 2010 and 2011, the now 64-year-old stated that she believed God was punishing her for not being straight, adding:

"Life is a freaking journey, and it's about growing and changing, and coming to terms with who and what you are, and loving who and what you are."

Before coming out as lesbian, McGillis tied the knot twice, first with Boyd Black (from 1979 to 1981) and then to Fred Tilman (from 1989 to 2002), with whom she shares daughters Kelsey and Sonora.

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Kelly McGillis posing for a portrait during the 35th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada | Photo: Matt Carr/Getty Images

Kelly McGillis posing for a portrait during the 35th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada | Photo: Matt Carr/Getty Images

NOT IN THE SEQUEL

Although she has been keeping herself active, having starred in "Tio Papi," "Maternal Secrets," and "Dirty John," the actress was not contacted to a part of the upcoming sequel "Top Gun: Maverick."

Jennifer Connely was the star chosen to replace her as Charlie in the film. Still, instead of feeling insulted by it, McGillis decided to address the situation in a refreshingly pragmatic:

“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."

Jennifer Connelly at the premiere of 20th Century Fox's "Alita: Battle Angel" at Westwood Regency Theater in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Jennifer Connelly at the premiere of 20th Century Fox's "Alita: Battle Angel" at Westwood Regency Theater in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

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YOUTH OBSESSION

She also threw a jab at Hollywood's preference for young stars, saying that she prefers to feel secure in her skin and who and what she is at her age than placing a value on anything else.

When asked if she would attend any promotional events surrounding the film, McGillis said she didn't know how to answer because nothing had happened yet.

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The actress didn't say no to that possibility but claimed that she would have to assess her situation at the time based on what she will be doing or where she will be.

According to her, "movies are odd things," and she doesn't keep in touch with anyone she has worked with, and that she hasn't even seen the "Top Gun: Maverick" trailer.

STILL THE SAME

At 64, she naturally looks utterly different from the Charlie "Top Gun" fans remember, after cutting long and beautiful gold curls and wearing thing glasses from time to time.

However, she is still the same woman who graced the big screen alongside Cruise and Kilmer all those years ago, with the same talent and a passion that never fades.

Kelly McGillis at the "Stake Land" premiere at The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City | Photo: Mike Coppola/FilmMagic via Getty Images

Kelly McGillis at the "Stake Land" premiere at The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City | Photo: Mike Coppola/FilmMagic via Getty Images

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ATTACKED IN HER OWN HOME

Nowadays, McGillis leads a peaceful life in North Carolina, but she got the scar of her life back in 2016 when a stranger broke into her house and started attacking her as she tried to call 911.

McGillis recalled coming home late one evening and seeing a woman running down the hallway towards her while yelling at her, accusing the actress of stalking her on Twitter.

Kelly McGillis at the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time" held at Grauman''s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California | Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Kelly McGillis at the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time" held at Grauman''s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California | Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Upon entering her home, McGillis saw two pairs of sandals that didn't belong to her, so she was afraid someone else was in the house beside the strange woman and had gotten access to her firearms.

The 64-year-old ran out of the house after escaping the woman who tried to punch her and take her cellphone. She then got into her truck and drove away before flagging another driver who helped her.

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The intruder was later arrested by the Henderson County Sheriff's Office and was identified as 38-year-old Laurence Marie Dorn, who was held in jail under a $60,000 bond.

Dorn was charged with second-degree burglary, misdemeanor stalking, assault, battery, misdemeanor larceny, and interfering with emergency communication.

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