Former Miss Universe Chelsi Smith passed away this weekend after suffering from liver cancer for just over a year. She was 45.
The Texas native was best known for capturing the title of Miss Texas in 1995 and going on to win Miss USA and Miss Universe just months later. In doing so, Smith became the first and only woman from Texas to win both pageants, as well as the first American woman in 15 years to claim the Miss Universe title.
After her passing on Saturday, Smith’s family released a statement and broke the devastating news.
“We are heartbroken to share the news that Chelsi Smith has passed away following a protracted illness,” they said. “Chelsi was our loving daughter, niece, and friend. We will miss her infectious laughter, joie de vivre, and free spirit. She left an indelible mark on all those who knew her.”
Added the family: “While we mourn the loss of this vivacious and kind-hearted woman, we also celebrate her remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young women around the world that their dreams are possible through a loving heart and an enlightened mind.”
According to Smith’s spokesman Jarrod Klawinsky, since getting diagnosed in spring 2017, her health majorly declined.
“It just got worse throughout 2017,” he told The Houston Chronicle. “And this year she became extremely weak.”
Though she had a presence on social media, Smith never publicly acknowledged her diagnosis or treatments. Her family touched upon her choice to remain private, explaining: “As much as Chelsi cherished her privacy, she always appreciated the expressions of love and good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.”
In August, the former pageant winner went to live in Pennsylvania with her mother, according to The Houston Chronicle. Smith remained there until her passing on Saturday afternoon. A memorial service is currently being planned and is expected to occur in Houston within the next months.
During her time in the spotlight, Smith advocated for her biracial heritage (her mother was white and her father was African-American) and putting an end to racism. The Houston Chronicle notes that while she competed in pageants in the late 1990s, she refused to be labeled as black and had no problem publicly addressing it to others.
“If people are going to know me, I just think it’s important for them to know I’m half-black and half-white and that it hasn’t been a disadvantage,” she said.
In the year after claiming the title, Smith competed again for Miss Texas USA in 1996, but this time, finished as a semi-finalist, according to HelloMagazine. Although she was hesitant to return to the stage, Smith chose to give it one more try before moving on in her career.
“I actually wasn’t going to come back,” she admitted to Pageant Interviews. “I felt I had fun competing and was ready to move on to something else; but, I decided to go back as a contestant-at-large and give it one last shot.”
RELATED VIDEO: Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutiérrez Writes Touching Message After Miss Universe Fallout: ‘My Destiny Was This’
Smith moved to Los Angeles after ending her run in pageantry competitions and pursued a career in music, according to her website. In 1999, she signed with Music World/Columbia/Sony Music records. She also dabbled in film and television acting while living on the west coast.
“After retiring her crown,” her family wrote, “she set the bar for intelligent and enlightened women around the world often advocating for causes close to her heart.”
Since her passing, friends and fans of the former Miss Universe winner have expressed an outpour of love and support on social media.
Close friend Shanna Moakler — who won Miss New York in 1995 — tweeted a tribute message and photo collage in honor of her pal on Saturday, writing “You were my friend and a light. I love and will miss you more then you will never know. The epitome of a Queen.”