This 1980’s beauty is unrecognizable today – 37 years after hit film that catapulted her into stardom.

The iconic Top Gun movie catapulted Tom Cruise to stardom.

However, the actress who played his love interest took a very different path.

Now 65 years old, she has faced significant age shaming in recent years and is hardly recognizable today.

I don’t think I was the only one who couldn’t help but think of Kelly McGillis when I went to see Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to the classic 80s film. I knew she wouldn’t appear – but I still hoped to see her.

While McGillis never showed up, Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer reunited in a very emotional scene. According to McGillis, she wasn’t asked to join the cast. In 2019, Entertainment Tonight asked if the filmmakers of Top Gun: Maverick had offered her a role in the sequel.

“Oh my god no. They did not, nor do I think they would ever,” McGillis said. “I mean, 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.”

However, the 65-year-old actress didn’t seem to care about being left out of Top Gun: Maverick, which became the blockbuster movie of 2022.

“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,” she said.

The truth about her character in Top Gun

In the eighties, Kelly McGillis was one of a select few women who could command million-dollar fees. In Top Gun, the renowned actress starred as Charlie Blackwood, an astrophysicist and training school instructor.

The blonde, long-legged beauty made a lasting impression as Maverick’s love interest, with her brainy-but-gorgeous character becoming iconic.

“I don’t think anything prepared me for what I guess was becoming a household name kind of thing,” McGillis told the LA Times. “It was really intimidating to me. I don’t aspire to be famous. I just aspire to be an actress, and that movie kind of startled my reality in a big way. I got very insecure. I didn’t know who I could trust to be my friend anymore.”

Charlie was actually based on another iconic figure, Christine Fox, a famous civilian flight instructor and mathematician whom the producers met during their research for the movie. Fox later had an impressive career at the Pentagon, becoming Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, the highest post ever held by a woman at the Department of Defense.

McGillis landed the role of Charlie by coincidence. She was scheduled for another movie, but it fell through. Paramount then called her and asked if she could do Top Gun instead. McGillis liked the script and drove to San Diego for the production.

“I felt it was a Western in the sky. I had no clue how visually impeccable it would be. I think Tony Scott brought so much to that movie visually,” she said.

Her role in Top Gun turned McGillis into a sex symbol, but she was also praised for her screen performance. The on-screen chemistry with Cruise was evident, and McGillis genuinely liked her co-star off-set as well.

“I think Tom is terrific. He’s the sweetest guy. He is very genuine and sincere and respectful. And I just loved working with Tom. I think he is wonderful,” she said.

At the time, McGillis was compared to great screen beauties like Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, and Lauren Bacall. However, she could never take that comparison seriously.

“I have never thought of myself as a great beauty. In my teenage and prepubescent years when one forms one’s ideas of oneself, I think primarily I was very overweight and had a very low self-esteem,” she told Intelligencer Journal in 1986.

Turned her back on Hollywood

Although many remember McGillis for her role as Charlie in Top Gun, it wouldn’t be fair to only focus on that movie – she has achieved so much more in her life and career.

She stormed Hollywood in 1985 with her breakout role as an Amish widow in Witness. Following her success with Top Gun, she starred as a tough lawyer in the controversial film The Accused. Throughout the 1990s, McGillis appeared in several television and film roles, although none significantly boosted her career.

Eventually, the outspoken actress defied expectations and turned her back on Tinseltown. She refused the scripts she was offered, cut her blonde hair, left Hollywood, had children, and gained weight.

“I think just my priorities in life changed. It wasn’t like a major decision that I made to leave, it was just that other things became more important,” she told Entertainment Tonight.

Kelly McGillis husband

After leaving Hollywood, Kelly McGillis focused on her family and took time to raise her now-grown daughters, Kelsey and Sonora.

Shortly after The Accused premiered, McGillis fell in love with Fred Tillman, a man with no connection to show business. They shared common interests, such as sailing and beaches.

Born in 1957 and raised in Newport Beach, California, McGillis felt she had found her dream partner in Tillman. They got married, bought a yacht, and sailed to Europe. Eventually, they settled in Key West, Florida, and opened a restaurant together called Kelly’s Caribbean Bar & Grill.

Despite leaving Hollywood, McGillis’ past continued to catch up with her. She didn’t move to Florida to escape, but she had much to deal with personally. She struggled with excessive drinking and uncertainty about her sexuality. For a period, she described herself as a “wreck.”

“I was never really unhappy. It is just that I wanted to reclaim my anonymity, to live my own life. I think that if you have children, it is you who should look after them. I didn’t want my kids to think of me as a movie star; I wanted them to know me as Mommy,” she told The Daily Telegraph in 1999.

Coming out

In 2002, McGillis divorced Tillman. Seven years later, she came out as a lesbian during an interview with SheWired, revealing that her coming out had been an ongoing process since she was 12.

“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,” she said.

While running her restaurant in Key West, McGillis met bartender Melanie Leis. Unfortunately, their relationship was tumultuous and self-destructive, with both struggling with substance abuse and going into rehab. McGillis had issues with excessive drinking.

Despite these challenges, the couple married in New Jersey in 2010, with McGillis’s ex-husband, Fred Tillman, attending the civil union ceremony.

“He was my greatest, bestest friend, and he still is,” McGillis told Daily News, adding, “I was gay before I had kids. I had a really tough time coming to accept myself.”

Kelly McGillis and Melanie Leis broke up in 2011.

Kelly McGillis today

Kelly McGillis is currently living a peaceful, happy life in a log cabin in the hills of Hendersonville, North Carolina. She keeps her gray hair short and enjoys the comfort of pants, far removed from the glitz of Hollywood.

“I am concentrating on teaching acting privately in a small studio that goes with a school in Asheville, North Carolina. I feel it is my time to give back and that’s something that I know how to do,” she said in 2014.

It appears that McGillis has moved away from her acting career, as her last credited project was the 2018 TV movie Maternal Secrets.

“You hear women of my age talk about this all the time,” she said. “I think this industry is not particularly kind to women who are over 50. I am not into the coloring of my hair, doing the Botox and getting a facelift. I want to grow up to be a character actress,” she said in 2013.

In 2022, McGillis was in the spotlight again due to her absence from Top Gun: Maverick. Fans were curious about why she wasn’t cast in the sequel. According to director Joseph Kosinski, the film aimed to take a different direction with new characters, and McGillis’ exclusion was unrelated to her appearance.

To those who remember her in Top Gun, Kelly McGillis will always be the captivating astrophysics engineer. Her role in the original film is iconic and unmatched.

It takes grace and strength to leave the entertainment industry to focus on oneself and prioritize family. That, to me, is truly impressive.

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This 1980’s beauty is unrecognizable today – 37 years after hit film that catapulted her into stardom.
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