Cagney & Lacey’s Sharon Gless: ‘I thought I was gay and hit on Rosie O’Donnell’

In the kick-ass role of NYPD detective Christine Cagney in the hit TV series, “Cagney and Lacey,” Sharon Gless became a lesbian icon.

Now, in her new memoir, “Apparently There Were Complaints,” (Simon & Schuster) out Dec. 7, the 78-year-old Californian admits to hitting on Rosie O’Donnell after suddenly feeling “confused” about her own sexuality.

In 2005, O’Donnell made a guest appearance on Gless’ Showtime drama “Queer As Folk” in which they exchanged an on-screen kiss. Afterwards, the comedian sent her co-star a bouquet of red roses accompanied by a note that said: “You’re a good kisser.”

“I was flattered,” Gless explains in her book. “It was the first time I’d heard that from a woman. But, then again, it was the first time I’d ever kissed a woman.”

The comment made Gless wonder if she found women attractive, she writes.

Playing a no-nonsense police detective on a hit show in the 80s turned Sharon Gless (far right) into a lesbian icon.

Later, she was having dinner with O’Donnell when she turned to the comedian and said: “Ro, I love you so much. I mean, do you feel….do you think?”

Recalling the dinner, she adds: “I didn’t even know what I was expecting. I was obviously confused.”

But, she reveals, “Rosie was not.”

Rosie O'Donnell made a guest appearance on "Queer as Folk" where she shared an on-screen kiss with Gless.
Rosie O’Donnell made a guest appearance on “Queer as Folk” where she shared an on-screen kiss with Gless.
Showtime Networks Inc.

The Long Islander smiled and said: “Oh, Glessy, no. Never. You are so straight.”

O'Donnell and Gless pose backstage on a family vacation cruise.
O’Donnell and Gless pose backstage on a family vacation cruise.

Gless, who was married (as was O’Donnell at the time), goes on to write: “I was disappointed and very relieved.”

Then, addressing fans of “Cagney & Lacey” who might have assumed she’d been gay all along, she quipped: “Well, I gave it my best f–king shot with the number one lesbian on the planet.

“And she turned me down flat.”

A long-time supporter of LGBT and women’s rights, Gless is fully aware that her campaigning — together with her casting as Cagney — has helped make her an object of desire for lesbians.

However, nothing could have prepared her for the obsessive attention of gay stalker, Joneigh Lee Penn, who was sentenced to six years in prison in July 1990 after menacing the actress, even threatening to sexually assault her.

Gless gave evidence at the trial, explaining how she’d first met the woman when she’d showed up at the “Cagney & Lacey” set with a bunch of flowers. Not thinking much of it, Gless obliged her request for a hug and thanked her for a large number of complimentary letters she’d sent to her assistant.

But things took a turn for the worse when Gless was forced to seek a restraining order after receiving a letter from Penn’s psychiatrist that stated, “Although this patient has no destructive intent toward you, she did plan to shoot herself in front of you.”

Defying the order, the fan somehow managed to get into Gless’ LA home in May 1990 when the star wasn’t there to steal her personal address book and some underwear from her drawers.

Sharon Gless, left, and Tyne Daly in "Cagney & Lacy."
Sharon Gless, left, and Tyne Daly in a scene from “Cagney & Lacy”
©CBS/Courtesy Everett Collectio

Worse, she later returned to the house and put a rifle to her head and told a female security guard: “If you come one step closer, I’m going to kill myself.” A SWAT team arrived and the stand-off lasted seven hours. It was only after a female officer had the bright idea to lie to the intruder and say that Gless was waiting to speak with Penn outside, that she agreed to surrender.

Sharon Gless
In her book, Sharon Gless also details her experience with a dangerous gay stalker.
©CBS/Courtesy Everett Collectio

“She had a shy grin on her face,” the actress writes in her memoir. “She was looking around for me.”

Chillingly, Gless learned from the police that Penn, who had several hundred rounds of ammo, planned to force her to have sex before killing her and then turning the gun on herself.

Apparently, as Gless writes, her motive for the murder/suicide was so “we could be in heaven together.”

“I escaped a violent death at the hands of a stalker,” she grimly concludes.

Nevertheless, something positive came out of the ordeal. The Screen Actors Guild called the star to appear before the Superior Court of California in Sacramento and tell her disturbing story.

“I did,” Gless recalls in her book. “The laws on releasing personal information through the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] were permanently changed that day.”

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