Ex-Miss America Leanza Cornett has died at 49, less than three weeks after suffering a severe brain injury following a fall at her Florida home.
The former beauty queen, who won the national title in 1993, passed away in hospital on Wednesday after undergoing emergency surgery earlier this month, friends said.
The tragic news was shared in a Facebook group titled, Leanza Cornett’s Circle of Love, which had provided friends and fans with updates on her condition.
‘Dear Disney family, I’m here to let you know Leanza passed this afternoon,’ a friend said in a post. ‘She was so loved. I don’t feel like writing a lot right now; my heart is broken.’
Tragic: Leanza Cornett (pictured left in 2018) died Wednesday at a Jacksonville hospital where she was being treated for a head injury she suffered less than three weeks ago. Cornett was crowned Miss America in 1993
Cornett, 49, was married to news presenter Mark Steines from 1995 until 2013. He took to social media on Wednesday to pay tribute to his ex-wife and mother of their two sons
The Miss America Organization subsequently shared a statement on Facebook confirming her passing.
‘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,’ the organization said.
‘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 please respect her family during this difficult time. Hold on tight to those you love today. Time is certainly precious.’
No cause of death was given, however, posts from her support page reveal Cornett ‘sustained an enormous blow to the back of her head’ and underwent emergency surgery after falling in her kitchen on October 12.
‘The surgery she had on Tuesday was to stop the bleeding in her brain,’ Close friend Sue Roberts said in an October 18 post.
‘Right now there is some continued bleeding and swelling. Brain injuries are not black and white. We have to just take this day by day.’
During beauty pageant career, Cornett had won the Miss Florida title a year before being crowned Miss America
The Miss America Organization confirmed the beauty queen’s death in a statement shared on Facebook
The beauty pageant organization said Cornett ‘had a bright and beautiful spirit and her laugh was infectious’. She is pictured alongside Miss Florida 2017 Sara Zeng and Miss Louisiana Laryssa Bonacquisti during a competition in Atlantic City
Roberts did not provide further details of the accident but revealed it had occurred in a moment that ‘could have happened to anyone.’
‘A fall in the kitchen. I am a self-proclaimed dork and have fallen a million times in my house. Accidents happen. I’m saying this because I think all of us need to just hug each other a little tighter and love each other a little longer,’ she added.
During her pageant career, Cornett, who grew up in Jacksonville, won the Miss America title in 1993 a year after being crowned Miss Florida.
She was also known as the first actress to play a live-action version of Ariel in the production of The Little Mermaid at Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort in 1991, according to WJXT.
Cornett was married to Mark Steines (pictured together left) from 1995 until 2013. He is now married to author Julie Steines (right)
Cornett went on to appear as an actress on TV shows including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Weeds and Saved by the Bell: The New Class.
She married former Entertainment Tonight host Mark Steines in 1995 before the pair divorced in in 2013.
She is survived by their two sons, Avery Steines, 16, and Kai Steines, 18.
Steines, 56, who is now married to author Julie Steines, paid tribute to his ex-wife in an emotional Instagram post on Wednesday.
‘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.
‘We will always remember the wonderful times shared during her short time here on earth I find comfort knowing Kai and Avery will forever have the best guardian angel watching over them as they navigate life’s path.
‘I ask that you please keep them as well as Leanza’s parents and her family in your prayers.’