The heartbreaking death of former Miss America Leanza Cornett

Leanza Cornett, who was crowned Miss America in 1993, passed away suddenly at the age of 49 on Wednesday. The mom of two achieved much in her short life, including winning the title of Miss Florida in 1992 before going on to snag the national title, according to People. The former Disney employee — Cornett previously played Ariel in the “Voyage of The Little Mermaid” show at Hollywood Studios in Florida — would go on to appear on a multitude of TV shows, including Saved by the Bell: The New Class, The Tick, Weeds, Grown Ups, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (via IMDb). She also hosted Entertainment Tonight

According to News 4 Jax, Cornett was born in Big Stone Gap, Virginia in 1971, but she grew up in the Sunshine State. She would attend high school and college in Jacksonville, Florida, and of course go on to win the coveted Miss America crown. Importantly, the red haired beauty was the first crown winner to champion AIDS awareness, according to PennLive, which reports she opted not to wear her tiara during public appearances to support the cause.

Details about Leanza Cornett's death are limited

Many major outlets are reporting that the beauty queen and actor’s cause of death is unknown, but a Facebook page was set up to update friends and fans after Cornett suffered a head injury on October 12. The incident was described as, “A moment in time no one can ever take back that could have happened to anyone. A fall in the kitchen.” On October 18, a post indicated Cornett suffered “an enormous blow to the back of her head” and required surgery to stop bleeding in her brain (via Variety). But updates about her condition were positive, if not scarce to protect her family’s privacy as one post said, as recently as October 25, with her mom Patti saying, “no news is good news.”

Sadly, her death was announced on the social media page as well in a brief post that said, “She was so loved.”

Former colleagues mourn Leanza Cornett's death

The passing of the former beauty queen was also confirmed on the Miss America Organization’s Facebook page. “It is with great sadness the Miss America Organization relays the news our beloved Miss America and friend, Leanza Cornett, has passed away,” the post reads. “Leanza had a bright and beautiful spirit and her laugh was infectious. We know she meant so much to so many, including all of you. We are devastated by this sudden loss in our Miss America family and we are deeply sorry for her family and close friends for their loss.”

The post goes on to say, “At the moment, we do not have any further information regarding a service for Leanza and we ask that you please respect her family during this difficult time. Hold on tight to those you love today. Time is certainly precious.”

Condolences poured in following the announcement, with fans pointing out that Cornett was a big supporter of the Miss America Organization. She was called “lovely,” “special,” “a spectacular person,” and one commenter lamented, “She made the whole world a better place.” At time of writing, nearly 450 comments had flooded the page — the common theme was extreme sadness over the news of the loss of Leanza Cornett. 

Leanza Cornett's family also mourns her passing

Cornett’s former husband was Mark Steines, a longtime actor and host, according to IMDb, who was wed to the beauty queen for 17 years.

They said “I do” in 1995 in Kauai, Hawaii. The couple would go on to welcome sons Avery and Kai. In 2013, the couple divorced. Despite that they were no longer married, clearly Steines, who appeared on shows like Medium, The Young and the Restless, Suddenly Susan, and in the movie Nixon — he also hosted Home and Family — was crushed by the news of Cornett’s death. He too confirmed the news of Cornett’s passing on his Instagram.

“It is with a heavy heart that I share with you the passing of my ex-wife, Leanza the mother to our two extraordinary sons Kai and Avery,” he wrote in his post. “We will always remember the wonderful times shared during her short time here on earth.” Steines went on to say, “I find comfort knowing Kai and Avery will forever have the best guardian angel watching over them as they navigate life’s path.” He concluded his post by asking for prayers for his children, as well as for Cornett’s parents and family during this extremely difficult time.

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