Leanza Cornett, a former Miss America who acted a the Live-Action Ariel from The Little Mermaid, is dead at age 49. Cornett had suffered a head injury earlier in the month, and was being treated in a Jacksonville, Florida, hospital before ultimately succumbing to her injuries. The Miss America Organization and Cornett's husband, Mark Steines, confirmed her death on social media today. The Miss America Organization's post remembers Cornett as a "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." You can read the full post, below:
It is with great sadness the Miss America Organization relays the news our beloved Miss America and friend, Leanza Cornett, has passed away.
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.
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.
With much love,
The MAO Team
The year 2020 has certainly been a year marked with significant death and loss for many, and this is yet another example of a life lost far too early.
Leanza Cornett won the Florida title and was ultimately the big winner of the Miss America pageant in 1993. She was distinguished as being the first Miss America to take on the AIDS epidemic as her platform during her year of service in the role.
Cornett was also the first live-action version of Ariel for Walt Disney World Resort's "Little Mermaid" stage show, which first opened in 1991. She would go on to host several TV programs through the 1990s and the 2000s, including Entertainment Tonight, and Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire. As a funny anecdote: Cornett married her husband (and fellow broadcast journalist) Mark Steines in the summer of 1995; when Cornett was let go from ET weeks later, and her replacement turned out to be Steines! That must of made for some interesting dinner table conversation... Cornett and Steines would separate after 17 years of marriage. They have two sons, born in 2002 and 2003.
Other TV credits Cornett had on her resume include The Tick, Melrose Place, Fear Factor, and a list of notable stage shows, including Bye Bye Birdie.
R.I.P. Leanza Cornett - condolences to her family and friends.