March 28, 2005 12:00 PM

Audiences will always think fondly of her because she made them laugh. As an unlucky bride-to-be in 2000’s Meet the Parents, Nicole DeHuff took a serious hit—right in her nose—from a volleyball spiked by Ben Stiller. She had worked steadily since, mostly in TV. In February, however, the actress, 30, who suffered from asthma, went to two hospitals in four days, complaining of a cold and a breathing problem. On Feb. 15 she collapsed at her Hollywood Hills home. Taken unconscious to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, she was found to have an aggressive form of pneumonia that, a friend says, led to a staph infection and cardiac arrest. She died Feb. 16 with her mother, Patsie, and husband, director Ari Palitz, 32, by her side. “Everyone is still trying to make sense of it,” says a friend of DeHuff’s. “I never thought she’d lose the battle.” Pneumonia kills several hundred people a year in the 25-34 age range. “If it’s a bacterial form and you treat it early, you have a better outcome,” says U.C. Davis School of Medicine pulmonary specialist Dr. Allan Siefkin. But even drugs sometimes can’t stop the more deadly viral form of pneumonia. Despite dying at such an early age, DeHuff leaves behind strong memories. “She grasped life by both hands,” says her friend. “Whenever you saw her and asked her how she was doing, she’d grin and say, ‘Living the dream. I’m living the dream.’ ”

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