“Hi, my name is Donna Fiore,” the caller stated by way of introduction to a representative of the Church of Scientology in 2017. “I’m Leah Remini’s stepmother.”
With those few words, Fiore launched a damning indictment of the fading television actress as she unleashed years of pent-up resentment—first in the telephone call, then in an exclusive meeting with reporters from the Church’s Freedom magazine at her Wilmington, North Carolina, home.
Fiore revealed that she made the unsolicited phone call after seeing a video online of Leah’s father, George Remini, speaking out on his daughter, and videos from other people who knew her.
Speaking out about Leah, Fiore said, has “been a long time coming. Because she has gotten away with a lot. And she’s the first one to point her finger at somebody.”
Throughout her recorded statements, Fiore—who before they divorced was married to Leah’s father for 28 years and helped raise Leah from the time she was 5 years old—opened a torrent of repressed emotions. She spoke freely—with one condition: she wanted to live out her retirement in peace and quiet, because she knew firsthand the rage that boiled within her stepdaughter.
Donna Fiore died September 1, 2019. Her request was honored.
“I’m really pissed at her, okay,” Fiore began, explaining why she came forward. “I’ve been pissed at her for four years since my younger daughter died. And, you know, I’m just tired of all the bullshit that comes along with her.
DONNA FIORE AUDIO
“I’m really pissed at her”
“She knew she was full of shit”
“She was quite the diva”
“She’s best friends with J.Lo, right? The friend—she used to call her ‘ghetto trash.’…All kinds of shit. And now they’re best friends forever?
“The basic problem with Leah is people really don’t change,” Fiore said. “They can appear to change. But their basic character does not change. And you know from the minute I met her [and her sister], even though I really loved them—they were little girls, what are you going to hate?—she was a liar from day one. I mean from day one.”
Fiore spoke of the years she spent helping to raise Leah and her sister Nicole, after dating and marrying their father, George Remini.
“I was very good to them,” she said. “I treated them like my own….I took them shopping; I spent the holiday with them. I ran when they had a problem.”
After their 1976 marriage, George and Donna added two more girls of their own to the family—Elizabeth and Stephani. “It was quite a circus, with lots of drama,” said Fiore.
But little Leah was no longer the baby of the family and showed her resentment. Fiore recalled a time the family was getting out of the car, but Leah stayed inside in the back, saying she couldn’t push the seat.
“I said, ‘Well, the younger sister did...What’s your problem?’ And she laughed,” Fiore said. “She realized, ‘Oh, I thought you’d do it for me.’ And that was her basic attitude.”
Fiore recalled a family visit to George’s mother at her New York City apartment on a frigid afternoon. Leah was wearing summer sandals even though Fiore had just taken the girls winter clothes shopping.
“So my mother-in-law said—in front of my brother-in-law—‘Why are you wearing those shoes?’” Leah’s reply: “‘We don’t have any more [shoes].’ So, the whole family hates George now. And this went on constantly. It was like a neverending thing. And after a while, you know, you start losing your understanding and you start getting pissed.
“We went through years and years of useless arguing within the family because this kid would go back and forth between Vicki [Leah’s mother] and George and tell them entirely different stories.”
It was that way from the beginning, according to Fiore. No matter what Leah did, it seemed she was always after her own interests.
“When she became an adult, I expected her to behave as an adult and don’t be a fricking diva.” But when fame hit, Donna said, that’s exactly what happened. “She just became herself, more emphasized.”
Fiore even bluntly credited Leah’s success not with acting skills, but rather finding the right vehicle. In The King of Queens, Leah played acerbic, aggressive, smart-mouthed Carrie Heffernan.
After the first episode aired, Fiore said Leah called her and asked for her opinion. “I said, ‘This is it, this is going to work.’ And she’s like, ‘Do you really think so?’ And I said, ‘Leah, you’re playing yourself—only more subdued. But you’re playing yourself. So how could you lose?’”
“She’s not acting. That’s her. Playing a New York girl. Leah with an attitude. She always was very nasty. You know she always made derogatory remarks about people.”
Success didn’t soften Leah’s rough edges. Instead, she became the self-centered prima donna her stepmother had feared. Fiore recalled a night Leah was in Manhattan and invited her to dinner. After driving into the city, Fiore went to the hotel suite and found Leah “in her diva mode.”
“Nicole [Leah’s sister] was there, and [Leah’s] assistants were there, and—‘Oh yes, Leah,’ ‘Oh yes, Leah.’ You’ve got all these people who are adoring you but that’s not real life. They’re not adoring you, they’re adoring who they see on TV. They don’t know you, whether you’re good or bad.
“I said, ‘When are we eating?’ I waited. She was on the phone, she was doing this, doing that. I said, ‘Hold it, we came to see you….And she was like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’”
After 90 minutes, Fiore finally picked up her bag and prepared to leave. Leah gestured.
“And she was like, ‘No!’” Fiore said. “But still, it’s the mentality. It’s that ‘I’m a diva.’
“You know, I’m not your fan,” Fiore told Remini. “I’m not your toady. I’m your stepmother. I don’t want to sit here and watch all this nonsense. I’ve been here an hour and a half, I’m still starving, and I don’t like the attitude. So, when you have time, I’ll see you.”
One of the last times Fiore saw her stepdaughter in person came after Leah had married Angelo Pagán and was expecting their child. Fiore flew to California for the baby shower. It did not go well.
“She abused Angelo so bad that I wanted to crawl in a corner for him….She was in a bad mood because she was fat. She was blobbed out,” she said of the pregnant Remini. “She was sitting in her chair, with all these toadies waiting on her hand and foot. She was yelling at her mother. She was yelling at the girls. She was yelling. She was just a bitch.
“And Angelo came in with this beautiful bouquet of pink roses. And she just made this face, like ‘Yeah?’” Fiore said. “And after he left, I said to Leah, ‘That is f--ked up. You did nothing. You didn’t even say ‘Thank you.’”
“I told her, ‘You know, Leah, you really gotta start appreciating people.’”
That’s when Fiore got a tongue-lashing herself as she had dared to question the woman she had raised.
“Leah said, ‘What are you saying?! How could you say that!’ I said, ‘Very easily. I’m the only one that doesn’t depend on you financially.’ Because they all do, believe me. I think that gives her the idea that she can be and behave any way she wants and they just have to take it,” Fiore said. “I’m the one who would be like, ‘Excuse me, Star, get up off your ass.’”
After Leah’s sitcom was canceled from dwindling popularity, her career tailed off significantly. Fiore believed the declining income is what caused Leah to lash out in a different direction.
“The phone stopped ringing,” she said, as to why Remini went after the Church of Scientology, after 35 years. “That’s it in a nutshell.…The phone’s not ringing, babe!”
Fiore added of Remini: “That [The King of Queens] was your one and only big career move. You’re not made for the big screen. You’re typecast, you’re older now. So, where are you going to go?’”
“I feel she ran out of money. She’s supporting the whole family.…This [attacking Scientology] is to get attention, to get somebody to say, ‘Oh yeah, hi Leah Remini.’”
Fiore also believed Leah’s angry temper spiraled out of control once she was expelled from the Church of Scientology in 2013, for violating ethical standards.
“A lot of that anger was possibly kept in better check when she was a member,” Fiore said, adding she herself felt some of that unchecked fury firsthand.
In December 2013, Fiore’s youngest daughter, Stephani, succumbed to cancer. She said Leah did not come to see Stephani, her half-sister, in the months she was hospitalized. And she did not attend the memorial service.
Leah by phone and her other half-sister Elizabeth “decided they were running the whole show.…It was like a tornado of chaos,” Fiore recalled sadly. “I don’t even have my daughter’s ashes.”
And, just as she skipped her half-sister’s service, there are no reports of Leah Remini attending her stepmother’s funeral. Instead, the diva apparently stayed in her Hollywood mansion.