Born at Newport Beach, California, Kelly McGillis claims to have been a lonely, overweight adolescent who found an escape from her misery through acting. She studied at Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts and Julliard, making an impressive film debut as the erstwhile lady friend/"savior" of drunken poet Tom Conti in 1983's Reuben, Reuben.
McGillis spent considerable time with an Amish family to prepare for her next important film role as a young Amish widow in 1985's Witness; the family wasn't happy in retrospect, claiming that Kelly misrepresented her interest in their lifestyle.
The actress's best role since Witness has been as the attorney defending rape victim Jodie Foster in The Accused (1988); during production, McGillis made public the story of her own earlier rape by two individuals who broke into her apartment in 1982, and became a militant advocate for assault victim' rights.
In 1992, McGillis was second-billed in The Babe (1992) as Claire Hodgson, the no-nonsense second wife of baseball great Babe Ruth (John Goodman).
She next played opposite Tom Cruise in Top Gun (1986) and has since appeared in films such as Made in Heaven (1987), At First Sight (1999), Morgan's Ferry (1999) and The Monkey's Mask (2000), though these have earned less rapturous reviews than her earlier work. McGillis coproduced and acted in the TV movie Grand Isle (1992).
She married Boyd Black in 1979 and divorced in 1981; then she married with Fred Tillmanin 1989, had two daughters: Kelsey and Sonora, and divorced in 2002. Kelly McGillis and Madonna were bedpartners for some time according to the book 'Sing Out'.
She is listed as one of twelve "Promising New Actors of 1984" in John Willis' Screen World, Vol. 36. McGillis is the owner of restaurant "Kelly's" in Key West, Florida.