|June 15, 1970|
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Born June 15, 1970 in Brooklyn, NY, Leah Marie Remini moved with her mother to Los Angeles when she was 13, and dropped out of school shortly thereafter. Working a string of odd jobs while attempting to break into show business, Remini finally made her screen debut in an episode of "Head of the Class" (ABC, 1986-1991) before landing a recurring role as Charlie Briscoe, a childhood pal of Samantha Micelli on "Who's the Boss?" (ABC, 1984-1992). She was shortly thereafter gifted with her own spin-off, "Living Dolls" (ABC, 1989) which, although the series also featured a young Halle Berry, was quickly canceled and Remini resumed the life of a journeywoman actor. After a slew of TV guest spots, she landed another series regular role on the sitcom "The Man in the Family" (ABC, 1991), but it, too, proved short-lived. The actress earned more success and a special place in the hearts of a certain generation when she landed the recurring role of Stacey Carosi, the tough daughter of the Malibu Sands Beach Club owner in what was arguably the most memorable arc on the teen favorite "Saved by the Bell" (NBC, 1989-1993).
Specializing in playing strong women with soft hearts, Remini recurred as one of the daughters of Carla (Rhea Perlman) on "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993) and as a small-town teen on "Evening Shade" (ABC, 1990-94). She lent her distinctive pipes to the animated superhero series "Phantom 2040" (syndicated, 1994-96) and scored another series regular role as the sardonic roommate of an ambitious hairdresser-law student on "First Time Out" (The WB, 1995). While that show was soon cancelled, Remini achieved another breakthrough with her next role, as the co-lead alongside Sharon Lawrence in the highly publicized sitcom "Fired Up" (NBC, 1997-98). Part of the "Must See TV" era, the series featured Lawrence as an arrogant executive who, upon being fired, moves in with her snarky former assistant (Remini) and the twosome start a business together. Even though "Fired Up" did not exactly catch fire, it solidified Remini in the eyes of fans and critics alike as a viable, gifted TV star, and led directly to her most famous role, that of the quick-witted Carrie Heffernan, wife of charmingly schlubby Doug (Kevin James) on the massively popular "The King of Queens" (CBS, 1998-2007).
Existing in the same universe and showing much of the same low-key charm of "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS, 1996-2005), "The King of Queens" grew into an enduring hit, with the leads' chemistry proving a large factor in its success, with audiences and critics alike enjoying how the hard-edged Remini and softie James lovingly played off each other, throwing zingers back and forth to great comedic effect. A household name thanks to the series, Remini booked a supporting role as Vince Vaughn's wife in the smash "Old School" (2003) and, after the "King" left his throne, landed a series regular role on the webseries "In the Motherhood" alongside Jenny McCarthy and Chelsea Handler. When the project became a full-fledged TV show (ABC, 2009), however, none of those three actresses was cast.
Nevertheless, Remini went on to land one of the founding chairs on Sara Gilbert's talk show through the prism of motherhood, "The Talk" (CBS, 2010- ). The original panelists were Gilbert, Julie Chen, Sharon Osbourne, Holly Robinson Peete and Remini, with Marissa Jaret Winokur providing "mother on the street" comedy bits. While many critics claimed it was a dumbed-down version of influential competitor "The View" (ABC, 1997- ), the show managed to find an audience, although Remini stood out immediately for her aggressive, sometimes abrasive personality. "The Talk" was renewed but only after receiving substantial retooling its second season, with Winokur, Peete and Remini losing their jobs. No explanation was given for Peete and Remini's absence until Osbourne gave a candid interview to Howard Stern in which she expressed her opinion that the two were not a good fit for the series. Although Peete did discuss the unceremonious firing in interviews, it was Remini who took a harder-line approach, launching a Twitter war in which she claimed that Osbourne, while pretending to be innocent, had them fired for being "ghetto," "awkward," "not funny" and "not knowing [themselves]." The back-and-forth continued, with Osbourne defending herself by claiming she had nothing to do with the firing and that Remini was "a very talented actress" who needed to "just get beyond this negativity." The war ended with Remini firing one last shot before saying she would move on.
This was not Remini's first brush with controversy, and the actress often rubbed fans and critics the wrong way with her outspokenness, particularly when it came to her passionate devotion to her religion, Scientology. One of the guests at the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, as well as claiming to be one of the first and few to see their new daughter Suri, Remini was one of Scientology's most public promoters and dogged defenders. Her onscreen talent seemed to outweigh her off-screen brusqueness, however, and she was cast as the female lead of the sitcom "Family Tools" (ABC, 2012- ), an American adaptation of the British series "White Van Man" (BBC Three, 2011-12).
By Jonathan Riggs