As a recently divorced father of two, Parker Stevenson has his priorities in order. “Pokémon is the big thing,” says the actor, sighing. “I am looking for this card. I don’t know what card it is, but the kids [William True, 7, and Lillie Price, 5] have to have it. It’s gotta be shiny and have this certain character and 100 points on it. I’m running around trying to find it.” His devotion to his children doesn’t end there. “He’s the only guy I know who reads his kids stories on morality,” says Lewis Smith, Stevenson’s longtime friend. “He has this book called Sticky Situations that asks, ‘How would you handle this?’ ”
Stevenson, 47, whose TV career has taken him from ’70s teen idol on The Hardy Boys Mysteries to stud-muffin on Falcon Crest, Baywatch and Melrose Place to a recent role as an oceanographer in Avalon: Beyond the Abyss, a UPN sci-fi movie airing Nov. 5, knows something about sticky situations. His divorce from Veronica’s Closet star Kirstie Alley, 48, his wife of 14 years, was resolved by May 1998, following more than a year of difficult negotiations over such issues as child support and custody. Stevenson did not get the $75,000 a month he initially demanded but settled for a share of the couple’s assets, which included their 21-bedroom mansion in Maine. He and Alley each get to spend extended periods of time with William and Lillie in L.A., where both parents maintain homes. “Kirstie and I are both nuts about them,” Stevenson says.
It seems to be a tidy ending to what he calls “an ugly process,” one that, after a long public silence, Stevenson finally feels “comfortable” talking about in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE. “Kirstie and I are not friends now,” he says, “but we talk regularly about the kids. Will we be friends someday? I don’t know.” What went wrong? Alley was unavailable for comment, but in 1997 she told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, “There was no infidelity in my marriage, on either side….There was nothing other than maybe different goals in life.”
In fact, their differences were so great Stevenson marvels that they were able to remain together for as long as they did. “Kirstie and I are exact opposites,” he says. “That’s what made it so interesting.” But being opposites, he adds, “makes for not a good marriage.”
When they first met by happenstance at an L.A. restaurant in 1981, Alley was a neophyte actress from Wichita, Kans., who was about to make her film debut in 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Stevenson was a seasoned pro, having begun his career in high school when he was cast in the 1972 film A Separate Peace. The Rye, N.Y.-reared middle of three children of an investment adviser and his actress wife, Stevenson graduated from Princeton in 1976. But he decided to forgo a career as an architect and instead built a résumé in Hollywood.
As he and Alley began dating in earnest, Stevenson, who calls himself “a really easygoing guy,” grew entranced by the outgoing actress. “In any social situation, Kirstie lights up the room,” he says. “I just tend to be in the room.” The room was often filled with debate. “Whether it was politics or diets or cars or music,” he says, “we had such different opinions on everything.”
And different tastes. She ate organic vegetables. He poured orange juice on his cereal. She loved rap music. He preferred classical. She smoked; he abstained. Yet none of that—nor the fact that they belonged to different churches (“I’m an Episcopalian; she’s a Scientologist,” says Stevenson)—seemed to matter to him. “I thought, ‘This could really work. I won’t be bored with this person, and she won’t be bored with me.’ ” They eloped on Dec. 22, 1983.
“It was beautiful at the beginning,” says his friend Smith, “because they teased and challenged each other. They once both jumped into the pool together with all their clothes on. I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ And they said, ‘Yes, we are!’ ”
Of the two, Alley was the less conventional. Once, recalls Smith, when Stevenson walked into their 32-room mansion in Encino, Calif., where Alley, an ardent animal lover, kept a menagerie of up to 50 dogs, cats, possum, geese and other critters, “he said, ‘Kirstie, there’s a chicken in our bed!’ She said, ‘Yes, I know. I didn’t expect you home tonight.’ And Parker said, ‘What does it matter if I’m home or not? There’s a chicken in our bed!’ Another time he came home and there was this chimp hanging from their bedposts.”
Otherwise, their bedroom life seemed quite satisfactory, as viewers of the 1991 Emmys found out when Alley, a winner for Cheers, thanked her husband “for giving me the Big One!” Stevenson grins. “I think there are a lot worse things that can be said about you,” he says.
Alley had been no less outspoken a year earlier. After suffering a miscarriage, she publicly announced the couple would keep trying to have a baby but would also consider adoption. In 1992 they adopted William and two years later Lillie. But by then, despite a lavish lifestyle that included the couple’s annual $25,000 Halloween party and $15,000 after-hours shopping sprees at F.A.O. Schwarz for the kids, the marriage was already deteriorating.
Stevenson and Alley separated in late 1996, then filed separately for divorce a few months later. Both cited irreconcilable differences. As their lawyers battled, Stevenson went into seclusion. “He didn’t return phone calls,” says Smith. “He has allowed people to write silly and downright wrong things about him in the media because he doesn’t feel a need to address that.” Asked about one false tabloid speculation, Stevenson responds with surprise. “They said we were gay?” he says. “I didn’t know that.” And he firmly denies the rumor.
In fact, “his dating life is alive and well,” says Smith, who adds that Stevenson’s taste in women runs to stockbrokers and lawyers as well as actresses. As for Alley’s relationship with actor James Wilder, whom she met in 1997, “I would like Kirstie to be wonderfully happy,” says her ex, “because that’s good for the kids.” Still, he has regrets. “Divorce is awful! You give your word before God to commit to this marriage,” he says. “But if I get married again, it will be to someone who has the same dreams and aspirations as me.” He smiles. “And so you go on.”
Michael A. Lipton
Paula Yoo in Los Angeles