Supermodels who met tragic fates

The dark underbelly of stardom has always been fodder, or culturally significant material, for film, literature, and tabloids alike. And the archetype of tragic beauty, as exemplified by figures from Marilyn Monroe to model Krissy Taylor, sister of supermodel Niki Taylor, is as enduring as it ever was. Despite their tragedy, though, these women's stories serve a crucial purpose. They succeed in bringing issues like mental illness, eating disorders, cyberbullying, and abusive relationships into the public consciousness. And in doing so, they empower others to (hopefully) take action to help themselves.

Some of these women talked openly about their struggles, while others endured in silence. Some have lives that have been chronicled in popular movies, and others are more famous for working in mediums like television than they are for their beginnings in the fashion world. But all of their narratives definitely reflect the fact that public image and private turmoil are, indeed, often at startling odds.

Daul Kim

Model Daul Kim of Seoul, South Korea, was a muse for designers like Chanel and Alexander McQueen. She appeared in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, and seemed, on the surface, to have everything, including a great sense of humor (as evinced in this video footage) and a keen artistic sensibility. 

Kim had a blog, quirkily titled I Like to Fork Myself, which functioned as a kind of running diary. Though it was full of fun, it was also full of reflections on her own depression and sense of hopelessness. "The more I gain the more lonely it is… I know I'm like a ghost," she wrote on November 5, 2009, just two weeks before her suicide. Kim's final blog post was entitled, "Say hi to forever," though few likely suspected that she meant it as a farewell note. Her blog remains online, and can be found here.

Charlotte Dawson

At the age of 16, Charlotte Dawson signed on with the much-coveted Ford modeling agency, and embarked upon a lucrative career. She also worked widely in television, appearing as a judge on Australia's Next Top Model. She was also plagued by depression, which she spoke openly and courageously about. She wrote a book, Air Kiss and Tell, which the Sydney Morning Herald called "jarringly honest."

In 2012, Dawson attempted suicide after a deluge of cyberbullying that was reportedly a "reaction" to her involvement with the anti-cyberbullying organization Community Brave. She later actually tracked down, and confronted, her most inane and vehement Twitter trolls in person. In her final televised interview, filmed just a month before her death, Dawson appeared despondent but determined, saying, "I can't be fearful. That's my worst enemy. It's everybody's worst enemy: fear of the future. Especially when you don't have one to look at." On February 22, 2014, Dawson committed suicide in her home. But her dedicated activism and compassion lives on.

Gia Carangi

Supermodel Gia Carangi is pretty much a household name — and was long before she was portrayed by Angelina Jolie in the 1997 HBO biopic GiaKnown for her free-spirited and seductive personality, her intelligence, and her authenticity, Gia is also synonymous with tragedy. Carangi is considered by many to be the world's "first supermodel." She was also one of the first female celebrities to die of AIDS, back when it was still a widely misunderstood disease. 

Carangi struggled with heroin addiction, which considerably derailed her career. In 1981, she went to rehab, got sober, and started working in the industry again. Later that year, she did a much-publicized television interview for ABC, in which she came across as wise, contemplative, well-spoken, and fully committed to starting a new life. Her sobriety didn't last, though, and, sadly, her illness had already progressed too rapidly to be properly addressed. On November 18, 1986, Carangi passed away at the age of 26. 

Margaux Hemingway

Margaux Hemingway, granddaughter of writer Ernest Hemingway and sister of actress Mariel Hemingway, seemed to have the world at her feet. A much in-demand model whose distinctive beauty was likened to Grace Kelly's, Hemingway was all over almost every high-end fashion magazine in the industry. She was also in a number of films. Nevertheless, Margaux's personal life was troubled. 

Diagnosed with epilepsy, she also struggled with substance abuse problems and severe depression, and attempted suicide at more than one point. On July 1, 1996, Hemingway was found deceased in her Los Angeles home, the victim of a massive overdose of phenobarbital. She was 41 years old. The question of whether her death was actually a suicide or not will likely always be up for debate, but the official verdict was that she did take her own life. Mariel Hemingway, who suffers from depression herself, has since become an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness.

Lucy Gordon

Lucy Gordon is surely best known for her roles in Spider-Man 3 and 2002's The Four Feathers, starring the late Heath Ledger. She was also in several acclaimed independent and arthouse films. Before she was an actress, however, Gordon was a model, who was chosen, as a teen, to be the face of Cover Girl cosmetics. So when in May 2009, two days before her 29th birthday, she was found to have died by suicide, it was naturally utterly devastating and inexplicable. 

Comic book artist and filmmaker Joann Sfar, who directed Gordon in the movie Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, told the Evening Standard that most of Gordon's friends were models, who were "often upset" and talked of suicide, but that Gordon would always reassure them that life was "joyful." Gordon left two suicide notes. In one, she stated that she was "of sound mind and body," and left instructions regarding the dispensation of her estate. The other was a personal letter to her parents.

Ruslana Korshunova

The heartbreaking death of young Ruslana Korshunova, the model the press dubbed "The Russian Rapunzel" because of her long hair, gained considerable media attention. On June 28, 2008, Korshunova jumped to her death from her Manhattan apartment at the age of 20. A Russian Vogue cover girl, Korshunova had no apparent reason to commit suicide, according to her best friend, who described her as being happy and productive, and possessing a "fairytale beauty." 

Investigations later revealed that Korshunova had been a member of a cult known as Rose of the World; another model, Anastasia Drozdova, who was also allegedly associated with the group, killed herself the following year. Nevertheless, "representatives" for the cult denied having anything to do with either death. Other reports claimed that Korshunova had posted about her despair online. Whatever happened, her death was eventually ruled to be a suicide. But the bizarre circumstances surrounding it still cast a disturbing shadow on the tragedy.

Reeva Steenkamp

South African model Reeva Steenkamp rose to prominence by becoming the face of Avon cosmetics. She also worked for many other high-profile companies and magazines. Steenkamp was a passionate advocate for women's rights and for victims of sexual assault — a cause that inspired her to attend, and graduate from, law school. 

Nevertheless, her relationship with Oscar Pistorius, an Olympic runner who made headlines as the "fastest man on no legs" (and had a documentary made about him with that same name) because of his two prosthetic limbs, was perhaps not as idyllic as it seemed to be. On Valentine's Day 2013, Steenkamp was found dead on the floor of the home she shared with Pistorius. She had been shot four times.

Pistorius maintained that he had killed Steenkamp in error after mistaking her for an intruder. Others (including one of his former partners) claimed that he had a history of violent behavior. Ultimately, he was only sentenced to a six-year prison term, but his sentence was increased to 15 years minus time served on appeal in 2017.

L'Wren Scott

She started out as a model in Paris, working with the likes of Karl Lagerfield, Thierry Mugler, and Jean-Paul Goude, and became famous in the fashion industry for her "42 inch legs." Nevertheless, at the time of her death, L'Wren Scott was primarily known as a fashion designer. She was also the longtime partner of Rolling Stones frontsman Mick Jagger, and appeared to have a life full of stability, close friends, and success. At least on the surface.

Scott hung herself in her home on March 17, 2014. To many of her friends, her death was a complete shock, and totally unexpected. Few people had sensed the depth of her suffering, though a group of her closest confidantes were concerned that she had been unusually despondent. Though she had recently suffered through some medical problems, they didn't appear to be terribly serious. All of which proves that red flags, sadly, don't always go up.