Maksim Chmerkovskiy is paying tribute to his Dancing With the Stars partner Kirstie Alley, who died Monday at 71 after a private battle with cancer. The professional dancer took to Instagram early Tuesday to look back on his relationship with the Cheers actress, which began when they were paired together on Season 12 of DWTS in 2011.
"My dearest Kirstie," Chmerkovskiy began his caption. "We haven't spoken lately and I'll tell you everything when I finally see you, but for now I want to say that I love you very much and I wish you the most peaceful rest." The pro went on to call Alley "one of the most unique people" he had ever met and "easily one of the brightest moments of my personal and professional life."
Chmerkovskiy and Alley came in second on their original season of Dancing With the Stars but returned to the dance floor a year later for Season 15's all-star edition, where they were eliminated seventh. "From Maude to DJ Lil Buttercup you were always all in for life," Chmerkovskiy continued his tribute, which was posted alongside a photo from the dance floor with Alley. "As I'm typing this, memories of our time together rush to my head, I remember how absolutely wild you were and I start to tear up. Something you'd absolutely hate. And now I can't help but smile because I remembered exactly what you wanted me to say at your funeral. Don't think I can do it here..."
Chmerkovskiy then hinted that there was more to his relationship with Alley than the public knows, writing, "Some of our relationship is heavily documented. Most of it is known to select few. All of it was like a wild rollercoaster." He concluded, "I thought you'd be around forever. I wish we spoke often. Thank you for everything. I love you Kirstie Alley."
Alley and Chmerkovskiy's bond was tested at times over the years, with the Ukraine native publicly calling out Alley over her tweets about the Ukraine war. "I don't know what's real or what is fake in this war," she posted on social media at the time. "So I won't be commenting. I'll pray instead."
Chmerkovskiy, who was on the ground in his home country when Russia first invaded in February, responded publicly on Instagram, "We haven't spoken in a while, but I clearly remember being right next to you while you were organizing trucks of aid during Hurricane Sandy and I remember all that you were saying to me about situations where innocent are suffering. That same energy is needed right now. No one needs your prayer if you don't know what's real or fake."