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Why The Widow Evelyn Wiggins From Our Flag Means Death Looks So Familiar

With the continuing success of, well, nearly all things Taika Waititi, it's no surprise that his latest series, "Our Flag Means Death," is doing well. Its 10-episode debut season concluded on March 24, and fans and critics both love it. In fact, it beat out Disney+'s "Moon Knight" as the most popular new series, and instigated a staggering amount of fan art amid calls for renewal.

"Our Flag Means Death" is based on the brief true story of "Gentleman Pirate" Stede Bonnet, played by Rhys Darby. Bonnet was an 18th-century dandy who took "midlife crisis" to a new high, according to Smithsonian Magazine, abandoning his wife, children, and fortune to become a pirate on the high seas. Though he had no sailing or buccaneering experience and purchased his ship legally rather than seizing it, he eventually connected with the infamous pirate Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, played in the series by Waititi, marking a reunion for the "Flight of the Conchords" actors. Blackbeard and Bonnet traveled together for a time, their tête-à-tête lasting less than two years until both pirates were executed in 1718.

While primarily about the (b)romance between Stede and Blackbeard, one non-pirate character appearing late in the show's 1st season has fans smitten — and she's the only one who wears an eyepatch. How do we know the actress who plays the Widow Evelyn Wiggins? Here's where you might recognize her.

Kristen Johnston's breakout role was as an alien

Kristen Johnston, who plays the Widow Evelyn Wiggins on "Our Flag Means Death," is still best known for her breakout role in the long-running NBC sitcom "3rd Rock from the Sun." Johnston starred as Sally Solomon, one of four aliens who pretend to be a human family so they can report back to their planet about life on Earth. It became a hit, airing for six seasons from 1996 to 2001, and winning eight Primetime Emmy Awards, including two for Johnston. The series also starred John Lithgow as father-figure Dick Solomon, French Stewart and a teenaged Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Sally's "brothers" Harry and Tommy, and "Saturday Night Live" alum Jane Curtin as Dick's love interest Mary.

Lithgow won an Emmy for the show after its 1st season, and Johnston joined him the following year, picking up her first Emmy. She won again in 1999 for the show's 4th season, even beating out Lisa Kudrow of "Friends." But the sudden fame, coupled with the loneliness of Los Angeles while away from her New York family, was difficult to cope with, and she started taking painkillers for migraines around Season 3. "The work was fun, but everything that came with it was so terrifying to me," she told Elizabeth Vargas on her "Heart of the Matter" podcast. "I didn't realize until later that I lived in a state of absolute panic for like 10 years." She also described thinking, when she first received morphine for pain, "this is the answer. This is exactly what I've been looking for."

Kristen Johnston played a few small roles while battling addiction

Kristen Johnston seemed to vanish for a while after "3rd Rock from the Sun" ended in 2001. Though she appeared in projects like "The Larry Sanders Show," "Strangers with Candy," "ER," and as Ivana Humpalot in 1999's "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," she also found herself with a substance use disorder, drinking heavily and taking multiple pills a day.

"For a long time, it was like an abusive relationship," Johnston told Elizabeth Vargas. "I was able to keep a lid on it for a couple of years, and then we became married, me and my opiates, a couple of years after 3rd Rock, and it was a very, very abusive relationship." She also described the constant search for pills as "a full-time job," even during the thick of the opioid crisis.

Johnston finally hit bottom when she landed in the hospital after an ulcer burst in her stomach in 2006. "I felt it. It was like an impact," she told Entertainment Weekly in 2012. As she watched people celebrating New Year's Eve from her hospital bed, she knew she needed help. "They're with their friends and their family, and they are not worried about where their next pills are," she told Vargas. "I was like, 'I haven't done that for 15 years.' ... That was the first moment sanity started to seep through." It was also the impetus for writing her 2012 memoir "Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster."

Kristen Johnston played a memorable, yet short role on Sex and the City

In 2004, Kristen Johnston played one of her most unforgettable roles: ultimate New York party girl Lexi Featherston in "Sex and the City." In the aptly titled episode "Splat!," Lexi complains that "New York is OVER" and "I'm so bored I could die," only to fall out a window to her death. Johnston was on the "SatC" set for one day to shoot the minute-long scene with her good friend Sarah Jessica Parker, per Today. Yet the scene became so iconic that people still quote it. Johnston immediately got requests from people on the street to record her voice. "They were like, 'Can you be my outgoing message and say, 'New York is over!'" she said. "And that went on for like three months."

While a consummate professional who treated the role as "a performance," Johnston admitted that in retrospect, there were similarities to her life at the time. "Later looking back on it, I'm like, OK, yeah, that might have been a little uncomfortably close to who I really was." As for striking the zeitgeist at just the right moment, she admitted that it could be hard to tell. "The only thing I know for sure is whatever you think is going to be successful and change your life, won't," Johnston said. "And then whatever you're like, 'Oh, whatever, I'm just gonna shoot this little thing with a friend of mine,' all of a sudden becomes this iconic thing for the ages. So I guess the lesson is just never assume."

Kristen Johnston most recently played the role of her lifetime in Mom

Kristen Johnston continued acting during her recovery period, appearing in the films "Music and Lyrics" and "Bride Wars," and in the television series "Kim Possible" and "Ugly Betty," as well as in live theatre. During 2013's "The Exes," she admitted in a piece she wrote for the New York Times, "I've always had a special place in my heart for playing a gal with an addiction problem, even more so since I got sober." In 2018, she was given that opportunity: the role of recovering addict Tammy Diffendorf in Chuck Lorre's CBS sitcom "Mom."

"Mom" addresses the complicated and controversial subject of sobriety with humor and understanding. Allison Janney plays Bonnie, a person in recovery whose estranged daughter Christy (Anna Faris) is also in treatment. Tammy shows up late in Season 5 as Bonnie's former foster sister and eventual best friend. "Mom" ended somewhat unexpectedly in 2021 after its 8th season, which Johnston called "a huge bummer." "This show has been such a total joy & honor to be a part of," she tweeted. "It's been life-changing for me to be on a show that's about recovery & women supporting each other thru thick & thin."

Now more than 15 years sober, Johnston is an advocate for sobriety and decriminalizing addiction. "The depth with which addiction is misunderstood and misrepresented in this country amazes me," she wrote in the Times. Her charity Sobriety, Learning, and Motivation (SLAM) established a recovery program for New York City high school students, and she's enjoying her various roles while speaking out for addiction advocacy.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).