Shelley Long was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana at 7:15 AM on Tuesday, August 23, 1949. She is the daughter of Ivadine, a school teacher, and Leland Long, who worked in the rubber industry before becoming a teacher. She was active on her high school speech team, competing in the Indiana High School Forensic Association, and in 1967 she won the National Forensic League National Championship in Original Oratory. She delivered a speech on the need for sex education in high school entitled "Sex Perversion Weed." After graduating from South Side High School in Fort Wayne, she studied drama at Northwestern University, but left before graduating to pursue a career in acting and modelling. Her first break as an actress occurred when she began doing commercials in the Chicago area for a furniture company called Homemakers.
In Chicago, she joined The Second City comedy troupe, and in 1975, she began writing, producing, and co-hosting the television program Sorting It Out. The local NBC broadcast went on to win three Emmy Awards for Best Entertainment Show. Her first notable role came in the 1979 television movie The Cracker Factory, in which she portrayed a psychiatric inmate, opposite Natalie Wood. The following year she appeared in A Small Circle of Friends with Brad Davis and Karen Allen. The film about social unrest at Harvard University during the 1960s was a critical success. In 1981, she played the role of Tala in the Ringo Starr film Caveman, starring opposite Dennis Quaid. She played Nurse Mendenhall in an episode of M*A*S*H (Series 8 Episode 16 'Bottle Fatigue', 1980).
She was also featured as Belinda in Ron Howard's comedy Night Shift (co-starring Howard's Happy Days co-star Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton), about life working on the night shift at a city morgue, and starred with Tom Cruise in the 1983 comedy film Losin' It.
Although she had been in feature films, Long became famous as the character Diane Chambers in the long-running television sitcom Cheers. The show was slow to capture an audience but eventually became one of the most popular on the air and made Long a sought-after actress for films.
In 1984, she was nominated for a Best Leading Actress Golden Globe for her performance in Irreconcilable Differences. She then appeared in a series of comedies, such as The Money Pit starring Tom Hanks (1986), Outrageous Fortune with Bette Midler and Peter Coyote (1987) and Hello Again with L.A. Law star Corbin Bernsen (1987).
Amid much controversy, Long left Cheers after season five in 1987. In the Cheers biography documentary, costar Ted Danson admitted there was tension between them but "never at a personal level and always at a work level" due to their different modes of working. He also stated that Long was much more like her character than she would like to admit, but also said that her performances often "carried the show." Long said in later interviews that in her decision to leave, it did not occur to her that she was going to 'sabotage a show' and she felt confident that the rest of the cast could continue without her. In later documentaries about the show, some cast and crew (including Jean Kasem and the show's makeup artist) talked of Long having been difficult on set and claimed she was constantly in conflict with everyone while filming the program. A costar in the documentary said 'it wasn't Shelley versus Ted, it wasn't Shelley versus the cast, it wasn't Shelley versus the crew, it was Shelley versus everyone.
In a 2003 interview on The Graham Norton Show, Long said she left for a variety of reasons, the most important of which was her desire to spend more time with her newborn daughter.
Her first post-Cheers project was Troop Beverly Hills, a comedy in which she played a housewife who starts a "Wilderness Girl" troop to distract herself from divorce proceedings.
In 1990, Long returned to television for the fact-based ABC miniseries Voices Within: The Lives of Truddi Chase. She received critical praise for the role, which required her to portray nearly 20 different personalities.
Major feature roles followed such as the romantic comedy Don't Tell Her It's Me with Jami Gertz and Ted Danson's Three Men & a Baby co-star Steve Guttenberg and Frozen Assets, a comedy about a sperm bank, which reunited her with Hello Again co-star Corbin Bernsen.
In 1992, she appeared in Fatal Memories: The Eileen Franklin Story, a fact-based television drama about a woman who remembers the childhood trauma of being raped by her father and his cronies, and witnessing him murder her childhood friend to prevent the child from "telling on him." The still controversial "recovered memories" basis for the prosecution resulted in the conviction and sentence of life imprisonment of George Franklin, Sr., a conviction that was later overturned.
In 1993, the actress returned to Cheers for its series finale, and picked up another Emmy nomination for her return to Diane. She also starred in the sitcom Good Advice with Treat Williams and Teri Garr, but the show lasted just two seasons. She later resurfaced as Diane for several episodes of the Kelsey Grammer spinoff series Frasier, for which she was nominated for yet another Emmy Award.
Long appeared as Carol Brady in the 1995 hit film The Brady Bunch Movie, a campy take on the popular television show. In 1996, she did a reprisal of her role in A Very Brady Sequel, which had more modest success.
A series of ventures followed such as the made for TV remake of Freaky Friday, and the family sitcom Kelly Kelly, which only lasted for a few episodes. She played the Wicked Witch of the Beanstalk in a 1997 episode of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
In 2000, Long took a supporting role in a Richard Gere film, Dr. T and the Women, directed by Robert Altman. She later returned for a third go-around as Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch in the White House.
She played Mitzi Robinson in the 2007 independent film Trust Me. In the early and mid-2000s, Long guest-starred on several sitcoms such as 8 Simple Rules, where she played John Ratzenberger's (her old Cheers co-star) wife, and Yes, Dear where she and Alan Thicke portrayed a snobby couple interested in buying the house next door to Greg and Kim.