Who is Leah Remini?
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Leah Remini dropped out of school to pursue her acting dream. Working continually for years on a variety of shows, Remini flirted several times with larger success until 1998, when she landed the career-defining role of Carrie Heffernan on the hit sitcom The King of Queens. A member of the Church of Scientology until 2013, Remini later departed from the Church, a chapter of her life which she wrote about in her best-selling memoir and explored in Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, a TV documentary series on A&E.
Leah Marie Remini was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 15, 1970. After her parents separated, her mother, Vicki, began dating a man who was involved in the Church of Scientology, and Vicki later moved with her two daughters to a Scientology compound in Clearwater, Florida.
At age 13, Remini again was on the move, this time to Los Angeles, California, and she soon dropped out of school to pursue a career in show business.
First Roles: 'Who's the Boss,' 'Living Dolls,' 'Saved by the Bell'
Leaning on her native Brooklyn accent and attitude, Remini landed an appearance on Head of the Class in 1988, and followed with two episodes of Who's the Boss? in 1989. That same year, Remini scored her first starring role with ABC's Living Dolls, a Who's the Boss spin-off that also featured a young Halle Berry. The show didn't catch on, though, and Remini resumed her career with appearances on Normal Life, The Hogan Family and Guns of Paradise. In 1991, she landed recurring parts on Man in the Family and Saved by the Bell.
'First Time Out,' 'Fired Up'
In 1994, Remini tried out for the role of Monica on what was to become the massively popular NBC series Friends—a part that went to Courteney Cox, though Remini did make a guest appearance on the show. Never one to be without acting work for long, Remini joined the cast of Phantom 2040 in 1995, lending her voice to an animated character. That same year, she landed another prominent role on a series called First Time Out, but it met with a fate similar to that of Living Dolls and was cancelled after 12 episodes.
In 1997, a leading part came along again for Remini, this time in the form of the sitcom Fired Up, which co-starred NYPD Blue's Sharon Lawrence. The show wasn't a smash hit, but it did last 28 episodes and provide the actress the exposure to land her biggest acting job to date.
'King of Queens' and 'Kevin Can Wait'
In September 1998, Leah Remini made her first appearance opposite Kevin James on The King of Queens. It marked the start of a career-defining run for the actress, who again mined her New York roots for the role of sharp-tongued Carrie Heffernan, the on-screen wife of James' delivery man character, Doug. Remini became a household name as she rode the high tide of the show, and she appeared in her first big film role, opposite Vince Vaughn in the comedy smash Old School, in 2003.
A decade after The King of Queens came to an end in 2007, Remini joined her old co-star, James, for the season 1 finale of the comic's new show, Kevin Can Wait. With audiences responding favorably to the familiar pairing, Remini became a regular cast member, though Kevin Can Wait ultimately failed to survive past a second season.
'The Talk' and 'Dancing with the Stars'
Beginning in 2010, Remini served as an original co-host for one season of Sara Gilbert's daytime show, The Talk. In 2013, she took on the lead role on ABC's Family Tools, an adaptation of the BBC series White Man Van, as well as a different type of TV project by competing on Season 17 of Dancing with the Stars, eventually finishing in fifth place. Remini later returned as co-host of the popular dance competition show for two seasons.
Alongside the likes of Tom Cruise, Leah Remini was one of the Church of Scientology's staunchest defenders throughout her career—that is, until she publicly broke with the organization in July 2013. The announcement pushed Remini back into the headlines, as she made the talk show rounds to explain her decision, in turn drawing a strong response from the Church to rebut her claims of abusive behavior.
Remini's departure from the Church also seemingly breathed new life into her professional career. In 2014, she began appearing regularly on The Exes, and later that year she debuted Leah Remini: It's All Relative, a reality TV show that also featured her husband, Angelo Pagán, and daughter, Sofia.
Memoir and 'Scientology and the Aftermath'
In late 2015, Remini published a memoir, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. The controversial subject matter propelled the book to the top of The New York Times best-seller list, and also drew the interest of television executives: In November 2016, A+E premiered Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, a documentary series that featured the actress interviewing other former members of the Church.
Shortly before the launch of season 2 of Scientology and the Aftermath, Remini learned that her show had been nominated for two Emmy Awards. In September 2017, Scientology and the Aftermath claimed an Emmy for Outstanding Informational Series or Special.
Additionally, it was revealed that the show had prompted an investigation into accusations of rape involving actor Danny Masterson and a potential cover-up by the Church. After the first of a reported four victims revealed her story to Remini, the actress encouraged her to file a report with the LAPD and personally followed up with police to see how the investigation was proceeding. Masterson, who was fired from the Netflix show The Ranch in December 2017 over the allegations, denied any wrongdoing.
Remini's interviews with two of the alleged rape victims finally aired in August 2019, concluding the celebrated three-season run of Scientology and the Aftermath.
(Photo, top left: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic via Getty Images)
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