The news of former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst's death shocked us all. Now, her recent postings and her family shed light on the heartbreaking details around her reported suicide. The pageant community, tv community and everyone who watched her black girl magic takeover are grappling with what has happened.
News broke Sunday evening that Miss USA 2019 and "Extra" correspondent Cheslie Kryst was identified as the woman who NYPD reported earlier in the day had jumped to her death from the 29th floor of a luxury midtown Manhattan high rise building. The story seemed unbelievable at the time, and details slowly began to confirm the tragedy was real.
Cheslie had widely become known as one of the four reigning American queens in the history-making year of 2019 where for the first time, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe and Miss America were all Black women.
The 30-year-old was exceptional in every way, even seen as perfect in many of our eyes. She was a D1 track star in college, graduated with every honor before attending law school & Grad school simultaneously to earn her J.D. and MBA, achieved several honors in her post-Graduate studies, wowed the world during her Miss USA pageant Q&A that went viral due to her bold answer about the Me Too movement, represented people who needed help in their fight for social justice, often pro bono, and was absolutely stunning both inside and out.
Always being top of her class, she brought that same intelligence and passion to her everyday work - creating a new lane for a Miss USA as they usually don't take bold stances. She didn't just give out beauty, career and fashion tips (which we always watched incessantly), but also used her platforms to be outspoken on social issues like BLM, elections, civil rights, women's rights and more.
Many asked, "Why would anyone with the what appears to be the most enviable, perfect life, want to end it?" Things are often never exactly what they seem from the outside looking in, especially when it comes to one's mental health.
Still, theories immediately began that this couldn't have been a suicide and demands for police to investigate foul play. In luxury hi rise buildings like the Orion, cameras are on every floor and police made sure to note that she was "last seen" on the terrace, alone. There is likely video footage to confirm.
Her last Instagram post (above) was haunting, referencing rest and peace with a stunning image attached. Sources also said Cheslie left behind a note saying she wanted to leave everything to her mother, who was a former pageant competitor herself who was crowned Mrs. North Carolina in 2002. The note didn’t include a motive for Kryst’s actions, but her family's statements provide some insight.
Her mother, April, shared the most heartbreaking post just hours ago, revealing that her daughter, who she was extremely close with, battled depression in secret.
One of Cheslie's last interviews was with Denzel Washington just a few weeks ago, and their sweet conversation ended by talking about the super power of healing:
Her former recent roommate and close friend, Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi, poured out her heart as well:
Miss America Nia Imani Franklin and Miss Teen USA Kaliegh Garris were also part of the historic slate of 2019 winners.
Cheslie wrote an essay for Allure several months ago that now reads as a spotlight on her hidden issues - she discussed the difficulty in finding joy in life, at 30, while being an over achiever all of her life. The highs no longer felt "high" and she felt as if she was going through the motions under immense pressure she put on herself, and didn't know to what end. Achieving just to achieve and check boxes had become a mental trapping of sort. And the trolls judging her body didn't help.
Each time I say, “I’m turning 30,” I cringe a little. Sometimes I can successfully mask this uncomfortable response with excitement; other times, my enthusiasm feels hollow, like bad acting. Society has never been kind to those growing old, especially women. (Occasional exceptions are made for some of the rich and a few of the famous.) When I was crowned Miss USA 2019 at 28 years old, I was the oldest woman in history to win the title, a designation even the sparkling $200,000 pearl-and-diamond Mikimoto crown could barely brighten for some diehard pageant fans who immediately began to petition for the age limit to be lowered.
After a year like 2020, you would think we’d learned that growing old is a treasure and maturity is a gift not everyone gets to enjoy. Far too many of us allow ourselves to be measured by a standard that some sternly refuse to challenge and others simply acquiesce to because fitting in and going with the flow is easier than rowing against the current. I fought this fight before and it’s the battle I’m currently fighting with 30.
When I graduated from college and opted to continue my studies at Wake Forest University, I decided I’d earn a law degree and an MBA at the same time. (Why stop at two degrees when you can have three?) I joined a trial team at school and won a national championship. I competed in moot court; won essay competitions; and earned local, regional, and national executive board positions. I nearly worked myself to death, literally, until an eight-day stint in a local hospital sparked the development of a new perspective.
Too often, I noticed that the only people impressed by an accomplishment were those who wanted it for themselves. Meanwhile, I was rewarded with a lonely craving for the next award. Some would see this hunger and label it “competitiveness”; others might call it the unquenchable thirst of insecurity.
She went on to talk about how her natural curls, her body and her opinions challenged the status quo in corporate and pageant spaces, but she soldiered on. She was finding joy again, at least briefly, while delving into social activism. And she hoped to find joy throughout her 30th year.
Her family issued the following statement:
“In devastation and great sorrow, we share the passing of our beloved Cheslie,” the former beauty queen’s family said in a statement.
“Her great light was one that inspired others around the world with her beauty and strength. She cared, she loved, she laughed and she shined.
“Cheslie embodied love and served others, whether through her work as an attorney fighting for social justice, as Miss USA and as a host on EXTRA. But most importantly as a daughter, sister, friend, mentor and colleague — we know her impact will live on.”
Her grandfather, Gary Simpkins, spoke to the Daily News, saying he's absolutely devastated.
“To be extinguished so fast is just devastating.” “So hard to imagine one minute they’re here and one minute they’re not. And you know that the only [way] you’ll ever see them again is when you yourself pass away.”
“She was such a fantastic person,” he added.
“She was kind. She was generous. She felt for other people. She tried to help other people. She was just one of those rare people that had a heart for people.”
“She had a laugh that was infectious,” Simpkins said. “I can still hear it echoing in my mind. And I don’t know. But I do know that we’ll get through this. We will, but right now this is just devastating.”
Her EXTRA family and pageant family are understandably heartbroken, and maintain she was always so upbeat, always dancing, and always a light.
Our hearts are broken. Cheslie was not just a vital part of our show, she was a beloved part of our "Extra" family and touched the entire staff. Our deepest condolences to all her family and friends. https://t.co/KkkW7POQoU
— ExtraTV (@extratv) January 30, 2022
We are devastated to learn about the loss of Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst. She was one of the brightest, warmest, and most kind people we have ever had the privilege of knowing. Our entire community mourns her loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family right now. pic.twitter.com/fuJHXeMnHa
— Miss Universe (@MissUniverse) January 31, 2022
Cheslie was extremely active on social media and did tons of interviews about mental health, her career, activism and more.
In October 2019, Kryst spoke out on Facebook for World Mental Health Day, offering tips on how she coped with stress.
“I do a lot to make sure that I maintain my mental health,” she said. “And the most important thing that I did is talk to a counselor. She’s really easy to talk to. She gives me great strategies especially if I’m sad or happy or have a busy month ahead of me.
“When I’m not talking to my counselor, I spend time at the end of every single day to just decompress,” Kryst added. “I unplug, I shut my phone off, I don’t answer messages. I just sit and watch my favorite movies.”
In 2020, she discussed the issue again in an interview with The Hilltop:
“There are three things that I’m doing with regard with self-care,” Kryst said.
“No. 1, I try to set a regular schedule so my alarm rings every day at 6:45. I know that I’m getting up and I’m starting my day.
“Two, I try to set very clear boundaries, so even though I’m at home and I’ve got my computer, my phone with me, I’m done answering emails at 6 o’clock, I’m not responding to messages. It’s over.”
Third, she said, “I have a regular workout schedule that keeps my body healthy and my mind sharp.”
Our utmost and sincere condolences go out to Cheslie's entire family and all of her loved ones. Check on your strong friends.
Rest in Peace to a Queen.
If you or someone you love is considering suicide, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.