Tawny Kitaen, actress and hair metal icon, dead at 59

Tawny Kitaen in 1986
(Image credit: Aaron Rapoport/Getty Images)

Actress Tawny Kitaen has died at the age of 59. Kitaen came to prominence during the hair metal boom of the the mid-1980s, appearing in four Whitesnake videos and on the cover of Ratt's first album, Out Of The Cellar

Kitaen's death was confirmed by her daughter Wynter Finley, who told the New York Times that the cause of death was not yet known. 

Born in San Diego, California in 1961, Kitaen's first brush with fame in the music world came after her legs appeared on the cover of Ratt's debut EP Ratt. Kitaen was dating the band's guitarist Robbin Crosby at the time, and subsequently starred on the cover of Ratt's first album, Out Of The Cellar, and in the video for Back For More, where she appeared alongside comedian Milton Berle, whose nephew managed the band. 

Kitaen's career took off after she appeared in the first three videos that accompanied Whitesnake's 1987 self-titled album: Still of the Night (in a role originally intended for a pre-fame Claudia Schiffer), Is This Love, and in the video for the re-recorded version of Here I Go Again. The album would go on to sell eight million copies in the US alone, a popularity in part due to Kitaen's undoubted appeal during the golden age of MTV.

Whitesnake leader David Coverdale would go on to marry Kitaen, and she appeared in one further band video, for 1990's The Deeper the Love. The pair divorced in 1991. 

"In America it’s very strange, because celebrity and excess can be celebrated," Coverdale told Classic Rock in 2012. "It’s extraordinary to me, because the other side of the coin with me is that I’m an intensely private man. And once that huge kind of ’Snake mania was going on over here, Tawny, my second wife, and I, we couldn’t go anywhere without being mobbed. We were chased down Sunset Strip in my white Jag, and I’m going: “This is not on. This is not what I’m here for."

In the 1990s Kitaen was a regular on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and co-hosted America's Funniest People, but she became as well known for her offscreen troubles as she was for her onscreen success. She had an affair with OJ Simpson, was charged with domestic violence during her second marriage – to baseball star Chuck Finlay – and was arrested twice in the 2000s: once for possession of cocaine, and once for driving under the influence. 

Her second arrest occurred less than a year after she appeared on the second series of the reality TV show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, alongside a cast including former Guns N' Roses drummer Steven Adler, Crazy Town singer Seth Binzer, and Sean Stewart, son of Rod.   

Most recently, Kitaen had started a YouTube channel, Tawny's Takes, and released a number of videos on TikTok

"Just woke up to some very sad, unexpected news," tweeted David Coverdale. "Waiting on confirmation… but, if it is true, my sincere condolences to her children, her family, friends and fans."

See more
Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.