Vanessa Williams Makes Peace with Old Nude Scandal, Returns to Judge Miss America Pageant
In the early 80s Vanessa Williams made history twice in being crowned Miss America. When she won the prize in September 1983, she was the first African-American woman to do so. By July 1984 she became the first Miss America to resign her crown, all over some nude photos from 1982 that were published in Penthouse without her consent. Though in 1984 Williams called the experience her “rock bottom,” it looks like the actress has made peace with her past. Thirty-two years later, she will return as head judge of the Miss America pageant.
Whether or not she really did ever hit “rock bottom” at age 21, Williams’s comeback was sensational. Multiple Grammy nominations, Broadway roles, films, a hit TV series, and an Academy Award–winning song later, Williams has made the most of the last 32 years. But in a statement from the Miss America Organization announcing Williams’s role as head judge, there is no mention of the scandal that rocked the pageant world. C.E.O. and newly minted executive chairman Sam Haskell said, “Vanessa Williams made history by becoming the first African American to win the competition when she was crowned Miss America 1984, and she went on to conquer the worlds of music, Broadway, television, and film. It is a great honor to welcome her back to the competition as our head judge.”
But in light of more recent celebrity nude hacks it’s interesting to consider how the Miss America Organization would handle the Williams incident today. The Williams story isn’t anything new in Hollywood. She was told the photos she took in 1982 would be in silhouette and never published. In a 1984 piece for People, Williams wrote, “I feel as if I were just a sacrificial lamb. The past just came up and kicked me. I felt betrayed and violated, like I had been raped.”
Penthouse paid more for the Williams photos than they had ever paid for a spread before, but Playboy passed on the material. In fact, Hugh Hefner became one of Williams’ most staunch defenders saying, “The single victim in all of this was the young woman herself, whose right to make this decision was taken away from her. If she wanted to make this kind of statement, that would be her business, but the statement wasn’t made by her.”
Williams will have a chance to make her own statement when she joins Brett Eldredge, Taya Kyle, Danica McKellar, Kevin O’Leary, Amy Purdy, and Zendaya in judging the Miss America competition on September 13. Whether or not she says anything about the scandal directly, her involvement alone speaks volumes.
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