Leanza Cornett, who was named Miss America in 1993, died on Wednesday, two weeks after sustaining a brain injury. She was 49 years old.
Cornett was crowned at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City in September 1992. She earned her spot as the first Miss Florida to win the national title.
The Sewell-based Miss America Organization announced the tragic news in statement on Instagram, writing, “It is with great sadness the Miss America Organization relays the news our beloved Miss America and friend, Leanza Cornett, has passed away.”
After an accident at her home on October 12, Cornett suffered a brain injury, according to friends who provided updates on her medical treatment through a Facebook group called Leanza Cornett’s Circle of Love. Susan Roberts, who said she had been living with Cornett, said the accident was a fall in the kitchen. The former Miss America was hospitalized after sustaining a blow to the back of the head.
“Leanza had a bright, beautiful spirit and her laugh was infectious,“ the pageant organization said in its Instagram post. ”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. At the moment, we do not have any further information regarding a service for Leanza and we ask that you respect her family during this difficult time. Hold on tight to those you love today. Time is certainly precious.”
Cornett, born Eva Leanza Cornett, was born in Virginia and grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. She was known for being the first Miss America to work in support of AIDS awareness. Because of this, she chose not to wear her crown during public appearances.
“How do you talk about practicing safe sex when you’ve got this thing on top of your head?” she told People magazine as part of a Miss America retrospective in 2000. Some of the more recent Miss Americas, including the reigning titleholder, Camille Schrier, Miss America 2020, have followed in Cornett’s footsteps and chosen to forgo the crown for certain events.
Cornett was formerly married to Entertainment Tonight host Mark Steines. She was let go from the show shortly after they married in 1995 and replaced by her husband. The couple got divorced in 2013 after 17 years of marriage.
“I find comfort knowing Kai and Avery will forever have the best guardian angel watching over them as they navigate life’s path,” said Steines said in a Facebook post Wednesday.
Cornett is survived by their two sons, 18-year-old Kai and 16-year-old Avery as well as her mother, Patti, and her father, Richard.