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

Tom Cruise’s ascent to fame was sparked by the classic Top Gun film.

However, Kelly McGillis, who played his love interest in the film, took a very opposite route.

The 65-year-old actress is now difficult to recognize because she has endured a lot of age discrimination in recent years.

Even though I was certain that she wouldn’t show up, I nonetheless held out hope that I would.

McGillis obviously never arrived, while Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer reconnected in an extremely moving scene. McGillis claims that she was not approached to join the cast. In 2019, Entertainment Tonight questioned whether the creators of Top Gun: Maverick had approached her for a part in the follow-up.

“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 actress didn’t seem to care about being left out of Top Gun: Maverick, which became the smash 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.

McGillis was one of just a few women who could earn million-dollar fees in the 1980s. The well-known actress played astronomer and training school instructor Charlie Blackwood in the movie Top Gun.

As Maverick’s love interest, the blonde, long-legged, and stunning actress left a lasting impression; her smart-but-beautiful character became iconic.

“I don’t think anything prepared me for what I guess was becoming a household name kind of thing,” McGillis said told 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.”

In reality, Christine Fox served as the model for Charlie. While conducting research for the film, the creators had the opportunity to meet Fox, a well-known civilian flight instructor and mathematician.

She would go on to have a successful career at the Pentagon, rising to the highest position ever held by a woman at the Department of Defense when she was named Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense.

It was quite coincidental that Kelly McGillis landed the role of Charlie. She was supposed to star in another film, but it was cancelled. McGillis accepted the call from Paramount asking to work on Top Gun instead since she liked the script, and she subsequently 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.

McGillis’s part in Top Gun made her a sex icon, but she was also praised for her on-screen work. Kelly clearly enjoyed her co-star off-set, and there was apparent chemistry between the two of them on-scree

”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.

But Kelly could never take that comparison seriously.

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

McGillis played Charlie in Top Gun, which is why I and many other people remember her, but it wouldn’t be fair to McGillis to merely discuss that film because she has accomplished so much more in her life and work.

She made a splash in Hollywood in 1985 thanks to her breakthrough performance as an Amish widow in Witness. She acted as a strong lawyer in the contentious movie The Accused after her triumph with Top Gun. The 1990s saw McGillis cast in a number of television and film roles, but none of them helped advance her career.

In “The Monkey’s Mask,” Kelly McGillis portrays Professor Diana Maitland.
After that, the outspoken actress disobeyed all the rules and abandoned Hollywood. She shaved her blonde hair, left Hollywood, refused to perform the scripts that were handed to her, gave birth to multiple children, and put on 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.

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

Shortly after The Accused premiered, McGillis fell in love with Fred Tillman – a man that had no connection to show business. But Fred and Kelly shared the same interests; they liked sailing and beaches.

Kelly, who was born in 1957 and grew up with sand between her toes in Newport Beach, California, felt like she had found the man of her dreams.

McGillis and Tillman tied the knot, bought a yacht, and sailed to Europe.

The family then settled down in Key West, Florida, and opened a restaurant together, called Kelly’s Caribbean Bar & Grill.

But McGillis’ past always seemed to catch up on her. According to the Top Gun star, she didn’t go to Florida to escape – but she had a lot to deal with personally.

She drank too much, and was uncertain about her sexuality. For a year or so, she was 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.

In 2002, McGillis divorced Tillman. Seven years later, she came out as a lesbian during an interview with SheWired. According to the actress, 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 McGillis was running her restaurant in Key West, she met bartender Melanie Leis. Sadly, their relationship was shaky and self-destructive; both had a problem with different substances and went into rehab. McGillis drank excessively.

Nevertheless, the partners in crime married in New Jersey in 2010. McGillis’s ex-husband, Fred Tillman, attended 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.

As of now, Kelly is said to be living in a log cabin in the hills in Hendersonville, North Carolina. She wears her gray hair short and prefers the comfort of pants – enjoying her quiet, happy, and content life far away from Hollywood.

“I am concentrating teaching acting privately in 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.

Looking at McGillis today, it sure looks like she has given up her own acting career. It was a while since we saw her on-screen – her latest credited project is from 2018, when she starred in the 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 face lift. I want to grow up to be a character actress,” she said in 2013.

As already indicated, Kelly made numerous press appearances in 2022. People were curious about what happened to her and why she wasn’t chosen for the sequel to Top Gun: Maverick because she wasn’t in it.

Kelly was taken out of the movie because, according to director Joseph Kosinski, he wanted to take it in a different way with different characters. Kosinski asserted that it had nothing to do with her beauty.

For those of us who got to see Kelly McGillis in her prime, she will always be the sexy astrophysical engineer. A woman like her in the first Top Gun is a role model that can never be equaled. Period.

It takes so much more grace and beauty to leave such an industry to care for herself and prioritize her family. That’s more impressive to me than anything.

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