What You Never Knew About Tiffani Thiessen

To say Tiffani Thiessen was a teen icon in the '90s is an understatement. The host of KCTV5 News put it best when he said "girls wanted to be her, guys wanted to date her." Through her breakout role playing loveable high school cheerleader Kelly Kapowski on "Saved by the Bell," she quickly became a household name for her sweet and peppy demeanor. As America's TV sweetheart at the time, her image was — and still is — plastered on everything from posters to t-shirts to coffee mugs. And now, over 30 years later, as she revisits the character of Kelly in the "SBTB" reboot, audiences are falling in love with her all over again. 

Since her rise to fame at just 15, the brunette beauty has enjoyed a long career in Hollywood, with roles in series like "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "White Collar" and hosting gigs on MTV and The Cooking Channel. The multitasking actress also expanded her workload to include authoring two books and penning a lifestyle blog. Although she is undoubtedly busy with multiple projects, earning her a net worth of $10 million, she still makes plenty of time for her family. The actress married actor and artist Brady Smith in 2005, with whom she shares two children, daughter Harper and son Holt.

Although fans may think they know all there is to learn about Tiffani Thiessen (a sixth-generation Californian, as she told Us Weekly), here are some interesting facts to know about the multitalented actress.

Her first audition for Saved by the Bell wasn't stellar

Because she plays the role of Kelly Kapowski so flawlessly, one would assume Tiffani Thiessen nailed her audition for the loveable Bayside cheerleader. However, that wasn't the case. In his memoir, "I Was Saved by the Bell," the sitcom's executive producer, Peter Engel, dished on what went down during casting. He likened the starlet's composure to that of a "deer in the headlights" at her first audition in 1988 (via Us Weekly). Even when she was brought back for another try, he noted that "her delivery wasn't stellar ... but she had potential."

Although she competed for the part with then-up-and-coming starlets Elizabeth Berkley (who went on to play Jessie Spano) and Jennie Garth, Thiessen ultimately won the role. Engel confessed that something else gave her a leg up in the casting room: She had already earned recognition in modeling. "Her visibility as a teen model had increased," Engel wrote. "Even if she wasn't the best actress we could find, she was icon material."

When cast in "SBTB," Thiessen was just 15. And, even though she worked on the series throughout high school, she still managed to become the valedictorian of her class, which is no easy feat! Committed to her craft, she never went to college but says she "would totally go later in life" (via Us Weekly).

She auditioned to play Rachel on Friends after Saved by the Bell ended

After "Saved by the Bell" wrapped in 1993, Tiffani Thiessen went on to star in "Saved by the Bell: The College Years," which ran for one season from 1993 to 1994. That same year, the gang also released a TV movie, "Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas," where Kelly Kapowski marries her high school sweetheart, Zack Morris, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

When "SBTB" and its spinoffs ended, Thiessen was left looking for another gig. And, because of her popularity, she took a chance at another future iconic sitcom then being cast: "Friends." Thiessen tried out for the part of Rachel Green, which she revealed on "You Up With Nikki Glaser." "Did you know I tested for Friends, for Jennifer Aniston?" she said during the interview, explaining why she didn't get Aniston's now-iconic role. "I was a little too young to the pairing of the rest of them."

Additionally, Thiessen auditioned for the Bond girl in "The World is Not Enough," opposite Pierce Brosnan, a job she wanted "more than anything," she told the Chicago Tribune, explaining, "One, I thought it was going to change my career in a great direction. And two, I was a massive James Bond fan." The part, however, ultimately went to Denise Richards. Because that rejection hit her "extremely hard," afterward, she purposely "tried not to want anything so badly."

On 90210, she kissed Luke Perry in front of then-boyfriend Brian Austin Green

In 1994, a year after "Saved by the Bell" concluded, Tiffani Thiessen was cast in the already-established teen drama "Beverly Hills, 90210." Cast as a replacement for Shannen Doherty, who abruptly left the series, Thiessen shed the good-girl image she portrayed on "SBTB" to play the manipulative Valerie Malone, who wreaks havoc on the zip code. 

Former "90210" exec producer Charles Rosin told Entertainment Weekly about the choice to bring her onboard, saying, "There was really an edge with Tiffani because she was so sexual." In fact, when Valerie was first introduced on the show, her first episode actually went down in the series' history as one of its most popular (via ABC News). Her inaugural episode showed her with marijuana in her hand, a far cry from the pom-poms and teddy bear Kelly used to hold on "SBTB." 

When cast, Thiessen was already dating "90210" cast member Brian Austin Green. However, her first on-screen kiss on the series was with Luke Perry, who played charming bad boy with a big heart, Dylan McKay. On "The Meredith Vieira Show," Thiessen admitted that lip-lock was somewhat awkward. "Literally having your boyfriend on the show and then literally kissing another man!" she revealed. On "The Beverly Hills Show Podcast," Rosin said it was "very hard" for Green to watch his then-girlfriend in bed with Perry and that it was pretty evident they wouldn't last as a couple.

The actress dated two of her Saved by the Bell co-stars

On "Saved by the Bell," Tiffani Thiessen's character, Kelly Kapowski, was known for her relationship with Zack, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Zack and Kelly's love story, which started as teens at Bayside and continued when they tied the knot in college, gave us major #relationshipgoals back in the '90s. In fact, the pair has had such staying power that now, over 30 years after they were first introduced, they star as a married couple in the show's reboot, which premiered in 2020. 

And, when it comes to Thiessen's dating roster, life imitated art, as she was romantically linked to Gosselaar. Castmate Ed Alonzo, who played Max, the owner of the gang's hangout, told Entertainment Tonight about their on-set flirtation, dishing, "They liked each other a lot. It was very cute. It was hand holding and looking over."

Another of her co-stars, the late Dustin Diamond, detailed in his memoir that Thiessen was actually hooking up with both Gosselaar and Mario Lopez, who played A.C. Slater on the series, and was known to visit both of their dressing rooms (via Ranker). On "The Kelly Clarkson Show," Lopez revealed that his relationship with Thiessen wasn't just a hookup, though, saying, "She used to wear my letterman's jacket from my real high school." However, "Saved by the Bell" executive producer Peter Engel told Us Weekly that they split after she caught him making out with an extra.

As a young girl, she was crowned Miss Junior America

Before her acting career took off, Tiffani Thiessen worked as a model. The young starlet's uncle, a professional photographer, helped her get her start in the industry. Her first gig, at just 8 years old, was in a Peaches and Cream Barbie commercial. The model-turned-actress also competed in beauty pageants and was crowned Miss Junior America in 1987, when she was 13 years old. In 1989, she was honored with the title of Cover Girl Magazine's Model of the Year (via TV Guide).

Over 30 years later, Thiessen still looks at those experiences fondly. In fact, she even posted a photo of her donning the crown and sash from the Miss Junior America pageant for her now 2.7 million Facebook followers. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Thiessen expressed her amazement regarding the longevity of her career, saying, "I started doing commercials and modeling when I was [8] or [9]. I was a kid; my daughter's 10 and sometimes it's crazy to look at her and think, 'Wow, that's when I started doing what I still do now.""

She made the first real move on her husband

Tiffani Thiessen enjoyed her time as a single woman in Hollywood, building up quite a dating history of actors. She started dating young and confessed to Howard Stern that she lost her virginity at 14. When it came time to settle down, Thiessen's former "90210" co-star played Cupid. She met Brady Smith in 2004 through Jennie Garth after the actor-artist made an appearance on her series "What I Like About You."

When the pair reminisces about the start of their courtship, Smith credits his wife with making the first move. Although he arranged their first date, when it came to intimacy, it was Thiessen who initiated. "Obviously I wanted to kiss her but I wasn't gonna be that dude that tries to kiss on the first date," he told Yahoo!. "But then she leaned in and laid one on me. And I don't even remember the drive home."

A year later, in 2005, the lovebirds tied the knot and welcomed daughter Harper Renn Smith (who looks just like her mom) in 2010 and son Holt Fisher Smith in 2015. In 2020, when the couple celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary, Thiessen expressed her deep devotion to her other half on Instagram, gushing, "I could not feel more blessed or fortunate to be experiencing life next to you."

Tiffani Thiessen wants to teach her daughter that jean size isn't important

As a young woman growing up in showbiz, Tiffani Thiessen felt pressure to look a certain way. "I was not the girl that was a size 2 and didn't work for it. I was never the waify model type," she said in an interview with ABC News. She went on speak about the difficulty of returning to work on "White Collar," where she played Elizabeth Burke, the wife of an FBI agent, after giving birth to her daughter and gaining 45 pounds. But, as she's matured in Hollywood, she's realized that body size is no longer her focus: Her family is her main priority.

However, when asked about being considered a sex symbol, a title that first came about because of "Saved by the Bell," she said she doesn't harbor any negative feelings about it. In fact, she sees it as a "compliment" even now, all these years later (via Fox News).

Although she does work on her physical health by doing circuit training, spin, Pilates, and hiking (via the Orlando Sentinel), she's now focused on feeling good about herself and not the number on the scale. And, as her daughter gets older, she strives to be a positive role model for her. "I want to teach her that eating right and exercising and being healthy is what's important, not what size jeans you wear," she told the publication.

An animal activist, she is a mom to multiple dogs

With her busy schedule raising a family while working in television, Tiffani Thiessen still makes time for her furry friends. A lifelong animal activist since childhood, she credits her father, who worked for the city and designed parks in her native California, for sparking her love for four-legged creatures. "We were always the house known to bring in strays constantly all the time," she told She Said Media Said. "If I weren't doing what I did for a living I'd live in some crazy ranch style place out in the middle of nowhere and have like 9 billion cats and dogs." 

The Thiessen-Smith household is a testament to their matriarch's passion for fur babies — it includes a staggering four dogs! And the actress is so committed to animal care that she partnered with Sergeant's Pet Care Products for their pet health initiative (via OK!) and even adopted a black leopard in support of Stars in the Wild, an environmental awareness company and product developer (via Animal Fair).

The actress knows her way around the kitchen

In addition to dogs and acting, Tiffani Thiessen has a passion for cooking. She says it started in her youth as she watched the women in her family cook together. However, her interest was piqued even further when she traveled the world during her "Saved by the Bell" days. "I was touring with Mark-Paul Gosselaar in Europe and was learning about different cultures and cooking techniques," she told People. This inspired her to start experimenting in the kitchen, which led her to take her culinary passion on screen with the series "Dinner at Tiffani's," which launched in 2015 on The Cooking Channel (per IMDb). The series features Thiessen cooking for her famous friends and former co-stars, including Elizabeth Berkley, Jason Priestley, and Seth Green.

In 2020, she added another food-based series to her resume when she was cast as host of MTV's "Deliciousness," a spinoff of "Ridiculousness," a series based on critiquing viral video clips. "It's probably the most fun and the easiest job that I get to go to, and that I've ever had in my career — truly!" she explained to People. Thiessen, who's at the helm of the series, which commemorates humorous food moments on the internet, is joined by a panel of celebrity judges — Angela Kinsey, Kel Mitchell, and Tim Chantarangsu — who also provide their commentary.

When she's not cooking on TV, Thiessen also runs her own blog, which focuses on "all things food, home and lifestyle."

Tiffani Thiessen is the author of two books

Besides her acting credits, Tiffani Thiessen can add "author" to her resume. The actress-turned-writer has penned two books so far. The first, "Pull Up a Chair," was released in 2018 and is replete with, as she explains on her website, recipes "pleasing the pickiest of eaters, feeding a crowd or pulling off a party in your PJs." The cookbook is chock full of delicious-sounding dishes, like her husband's favorite: short rib enchiladas.

The project, which took her almost three years, was inspired by her life growing up in a family where all the women cooked together (via KHOU11). Thiessen also wanted to gather the recipes for her children one day. "I kind of wanted to leave behind a little love and legacy of mommy's recipes for my kids," she told KCTV5.

In 2019, she released her first children's book — a collaborative effort with her husband, Brady Smith, who worked on its illustrations. The book, entitled "You're Missing It!," speaks to the times parents miss certain moments with their children because they are looking at their phones. The dynamic duo revealed the "lightbulb" moment the idea for the book came about, which involved Smith in their backyard with their son. He said, "I was pushing him on the swing and looking at my phone, and my beautiful wife opened up the kitchen window and screamed at me across the yard, 'You're missing it!'"

Her boyfriend died while they were dating

One of Tiffani Thiessen's romantic partners was actor David Strickland, who tragically died at 29 years old. The actor is remembered for his work playing a movie critic on the NBC series "Suddenly Susan," alongside Brooke Shields, and a supporting role in the 1999 film "Forces of Nature" as Sandra Bullock's ex-boyfriend. The actor had a history of struggling with depression, drug addiction, and alcoholism and had been arrested for cocaine possession, receiving three years of probation (via Throwbacks).

In March 1999, a day prior to his court hearing, when he didn't show up to court, Shields hired a private investigator (per the New York Post) who found Strickland in a Las Vegas motel room after an apparent suicide (via the Las Vegas Sun). At the time of his death, Thiessen had been dating the actor for six months after meeting him in a boxing studio (via Am). Sadly, at the time of his death, the actor not only had an adorable girlfriend, but he also had a successful career, as his movie "Forces of Nature" was No. 1 at the box office (via the Las Vegas Sun).

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She's 'shocked' that her Saved by the Bell alter ego didn't have more children

In 2020, Tiffani Thiessen reprised her iconic role of Kelly Kapowski in the highly anticipated "Saved by the Bell" reboot. In the Peacock revival series, she's married to Zack Morris, now governor of California, and they have a son, Mac, a current student at Bayside who has inherited his father's prankster gene. Fans also see a progressive character arc for Kelly, who reconsiders the decision she made on "Saved by the Bell: The College Years" — to forgo her dreams of becoming a doctor to marry Zack. 

On the series, Thiessen joins her former castmates Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Mario Lopez, Elizabeth Berkley, and Lark Voorhies (who, at first, was not expected to appear in the reboot), and the veteran actress is elated that the "old gang is back together again," sharing an on-set photo on Instagram. And, it goes without saying that she's also excited to revisit Zack and Kelly's love story all these years later. In fact, she even honored the on-screen couple's 27th anniversary, sharing a throwback photo with this caption: "Way to keep the love going." That deep love, which made the pair one of TV's most iconic couples, is being celebrated in the reboot. And, although she loves the script, there's one part of the couple's life Thiessen may have tweaked. "I am shocked that they only had one child. I would have expected...more," she told Buzzfeed.