Tawny Kitaen has died. An actor, dancer, and model, Kitaen was best known for her work during the rise of the music video scene in the 1980s, where the sight of her gyrating on the hoods of various cars for Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” became an instant signifier for a very particular flavor of rock superstardom. Kitaen also worked as a more conventional actor—most notably in Tom Hanks’ Bachelor Party, and, somewhat bizarrely, as a voice performer on Eek! The Cat—before moving into the world of reality television as that genre solidified in the mid-2000s. No cause of death has been reported; Kitaen was 59.
Born and raised in San Diego, Kitaen first gained entry into the musical world in the early ’80s through her relationship with Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby; those are her legs featured on the cover of the glam band’s eponymous 1983 debut, and she appeared more prominently on the cover of the next year’s Out Of The Cellar. At the same time (and having moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting) Kitaen began carving out her own path as a performer, most notably with a starring role in the French softcore action comedy Gwendoline, and as the female lead of Bachelor Party.
But it wasn’t until 1987 that Kitaen transformed from working actor to ’80s icon, courtesy of her performance in the video for “Here I Go Again.” Nothing on the planet could have sold Whitesnake singer David Coverdale’s much-sought-after larger-than-life appeal more firmly than the sight of Tawny Kitaen dancing on his Jaguars, possibly the most succinct image possible to project the mythical ideal of the rock star life. Kitaen (who would marry Coverdale in 1989, divorcing two years later) appeared in a number of Whitesnake’s videos from that era, including “Still Of The Night,” “Is This Love,” and “The Deeper The Love.” (The last one being her favorite.)
Post-Whitesnake, Kitaen continued to act; it’s around here that she scored the Eek! gig, voicing love interest Annabelle on the Fox cartoon, while also briefly co-starring in The New WKRP In Cincinnati, and co-hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos. But it was also a period in which she began to develop notoriety for issues with substance abuse, culminating in the incident in 2002 in which she was charged with domestic abuse against her then-husband, baseball player Chuck Finley, reportedly repeatedly kicking him in the face with a high-heeled shoe. (This, in turn, led to a bizarre incident in Finley’s baseball career, where a Comiskey Park musical director was eventually fired for playing “Here I Go Again” over the stadium’s music system to taunt him. But we digress.)
In the mid-2000s, Kitaen transitioned into the world of reality television, which was in the boom time of some of its most exploitative practices. Appearing on the sixth season of The Surreal Life, and the second season of Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, Kitaen continued to struggle with substance abuse, being arrested in 2006 for possession of cocaine and in 2009 for driving under the influence. Despite these problems, though, she continued to work; she filmed an episode of CSI in 2011, and appeared on a series of small web-based projects in the following years. She also became prominent on social media, posting a series of sometimes very blunt “Tawny’s Take” videos (including at least one blasting Coverdale for comments made about her) on her YouTube channel.
She is survived by two daughters, both from her marriage to Finley.