A cause of death has been revealed for actress Julie E. “Tawny” Kitaen, who is best known in the rock world for her appearance in WHITESNAKE‘s video for “Here I Go Again”.
A spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in California said that the 59-year-old’s cause of death was dilated cardiomyopathy. The manner of death was ruled natural.
According to the spokesman, other significant conditions included mild coronary atherosclerosis (clogged arteries); mirtazapine (antidepressant), mirtazapine metabolite, alprazolam (Xanax), acetaminophen (Tylenol), pregabalin (nerve pain medication) and hydrocodone (opioid).
Kitaen died on May 7 at her home in Newport Beach, California.
Tawny‘s children — Wynter and Raine Finley, whom she shared with ex-husband, baseball player Chuck Finley — confirmed their mother’s passing, writing in a statement: “We are heartbroken and saddened to announce the death of our mom. We just want to say thank you for all of you, her fans and her friends, for always showing her such support and love. You gave her life everyday. We miss her and love her and we know her legacy will live on forever.”
While WHITESNAKE was working on it 1987 self-titled album, the band’s lead singer David Coverdale started dating Kitaen, who had recently starred opposite Tom Hanks in the movie “Bachelor Party”. Kitaen soon appeared in several of WHITESNAKE‘s music videos, including those for “Here I Go Again”, “Is This Love” and “Still Of The Night”. Footage of Kitaen writhing around on the hood of a Jaguar in the “Here I Go Again” clip has been called one of the most iconic — and sexiest — video moments ever filmed.
Last June, Tawny told “Ouch, You’re On My Hair” about how she ended up being featured in the WHITESNAKE videos: “Ironically, I started dating David. He was two million dollars in debt to David Geffen at that time. I was working and had more money than David at that time, so I kind of supported us a little. And when I heard the album and I was allowed to go in and help mix the album… You know how when you sing different tracks, they give you a piece of paper and you pick the word from the best track. So I was able to do that. And John Kalodner, who was the biggest A&R guy in the business, who works for David Geffen, in my ‘E! True Hollywood Story’ called me Yoko Ono — because I picked the album covers, I picked the single, I picked the photographer. I made the rule that no girls were allowed backstage, so the groupies must have hated me.
“I’ll tell you how I came to be in the video,” she continued. “Marty Callner, the director of all the WHITESNAKE videos, had it all planned out — had the girl, had everything. The night before the shoot, David said, ‘Will you come with me to Marty, the director of the video’s house? We have to go over the story boards.’ So we went over to his Bel Air mansion, and he opens up the door, and without even saying hi or hello, he pointed at me and he said, ‘You’re her.’ And I’m, like, ‘I’m who?’ And he said, ‘You’re the girl.’ And I was already an actress. I had turned down a couple of bands from not being in their video, because I was an actress. ‘I’m not gonna do a rock video. Are you kidding?’ That was the mentality. But it was my boyfriend at the time’s video, so I thought, ‘All right, I’ve already helped my boyfriend on all the RATT album covers’ — referring to her former boyfriend, late RATT guitarist Robbin Crosby — “why can’t I help my boyfriend in his videos?’ And so that’s how it happened. And this poor girl got a call that she was no longer gonna be in it, and here I was.”
In a 2019 interview with Consequence Of Sound, Coverdale confirmed that Kitaen was not the first choice for the female figure featured in the video. “Claudia Schiffer was supposed to be ‘the WHITESNAKE woman,’ when she was the Guess jeans girl,” he said. “But that fell apart near the actual shoot. And I was taking Tawny out for dinner, when Marty Callner called me, and said, ‘You have to stop by, we have problems.’ We went to his house on the way to dinner, he opened the door, his jaw hit the floor — as you know, Tawny was an absolute beauty — and he said, ‘That’s her! She’s the WHITESNAKE woman!’ And I said, ‘Marty, this is a friend of mine. She’s an actress.’ And she said, ‘No, David. I’m happy to do it!’ So, sorry Claudia — you did very well afterwards, too.”
Coverdale and Kitaen tied the knot in 1989 but the union only lasted two years. Kitaen married Finley in 1997 and divorced him in 2002, not long after she was arrested for allegedly attacking her husband in their SUV a few blocks from their home. According to the Los Angeles Times, Kitaen pleaded not guilty to the charges of domestic violence, and the case was dismissed in 2003 after she attended court-mandated counseling. When she and Finley divorced, she released a statement saying she was being treated for a dependency on prescription drugs and vowed to become “the healthiest and the best mother possible” to her two daughters.
Prior to hooking up with Coverdale, Kitaen appeared in RATT‘s “Back For More” music video. She was also featured in several reality shows, including “The Surreal Life”, “Botched” and “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew”. She had several other run-ins with the law, including a charge for cocaine possession in 2006 and driving under the influence in 2009.
One of the Jaguars from the “Here I Go Again” video was dusted off for WHITESNAKE‘s clip for “Shut Up & Kiss Me”, from 2019’s “Flesh & Blood” album.
The day after Kitaen‘s passing, Coverdale tweeted: “Just woke up to some very sad, unexpected news… My sincere condolences to her children, her family, friends & fans…”