Tawny Kitaen, the actress and reality star who rose to fame by appearing in rock videos during the 1980s “hair metal” age, died at her home in Newport Beach, California on Friday, according to reports. Most prominently associated with the band Whitesnake, which featured her in at least four of their videos, she was married to the group’s lead singer David Coverdale from 1989 to 1991. She later married baseball pitcher Chuck Finley. She was 59 years old.
Born Julie Kitaen in San Diego, she had some small roles in independent films in the early 1980s, then appeared on the cover of the band RATT’s first full-length album Out of the Cellar in 1984. She was dating the group’s guitarist Robbin Crosby at the time. The album included the band’s biggest hit, “Round and Round,” and a follow-up single, “Back For More,” featured Kitaen in a saucier version of a 1950s soda shop look.
That same year also saw her in the zany Tom Hanks–Adrien Zmed comedy Bachelor Party, in which she played Hanks’s fiancée. She also starred in the title role of Gwendoline (alternate title: The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak), a racy adventure film and the final theatrical work from French softcore auteur Just Jaeckin.
In 1987, however, Kitaen became a pop culture sensation, and helped to revolutionize the medium of rock videos.
Kitaen appeared in three videos from the British band Whitesnake. First with the Led Zeppelin-esque “Still of the Night,” then power ballad “Is This Love?”, and the stadium rock anthem (a slicker version of one of the band’s earlier tunes) “Here I Go Again.”
The video, in which Kitaen did splits across white and black Jaguar XJs, became an instant sensation, and Kitaen’s name became shorthand for a new phenomenon, the “video vixen.”
The three Whitesnake clips, directed by Marty Callen, were part of a wave of controversy wondering if the now-ubiquitous MTV was “going too far.” Either way, the videos moved Whitesnake’s self-titled album high up the charts after years of never making much of an impact in the United States. Kitaen later appeared in a fourth Whitesnake video, for “The Deeper The Love,” in 1989.
Coverdale offered “sincere condolences” to Kitaen’s children, family, and friends on Twitter Saturday morning.
Kitaen saw more television work in the 1990s, including an episode of Seinfeld, in which she appears as one of Jerry’s girlfriends. (Jerry doesn’t like her, but he lacks the willpower to dump her because she is too beautiful.) She also appeared on Hercules: The Legend Continues as as a voice over actress on Eek! The Cat. In the early 2000s she was seen in reality TV programs like The Surreal Life and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
Her marriage to MLB star Chuck Finley ended in 2002 after she was charged with spousal abuse. The couple had two children. In recent years she was cited for drug possession and driving while under the influence.
She maintained a witty Twitter account, oftentimes sending old photos, positive vibes, or, this past Valentine’s Day, wishing herself “better luck next year.”
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