More than three decades after she stripped of her Miss America title, model-turned singer Vanessa Williams has received an apology from the pageant’s CEO.
Williams, who was a judge at this year’s Miss America pageant on Sunday in Atlantic City in the US, won the coveted pageant title back in 1983, but was stripped of her crown when Penthouse magazine published unauthorised nude photos that had reportedly been taken the year before.
She had just seven weeks left of her reign at the time, but the Miss America rules are iron-clad – Williams still had to relinquish her title, and 1983’s runner-up, New Jersey’s Suzette Charles, took the crown. Albeit for less than two months.
At Sunday’s televised pageant, Miss America’s executive chairman Sam Haskell made a public apology to Williams for the way his predecessors handled the ’80s controversy.
“I want to apologise for anything that was said or done during the photo scandal,” Haskell said, after the singer performed Amy Grant’s Oh How The Years Go By – bizarrely in front of a screen displaying newspaper headlines about the 1984 controversy.
“I have been a close friend to this beautiful and talented lady for 32 years,” Haskell said. “You have lived your life in grace and dignity and never was it more evident than during the events of 1984 when you resigned.”
Haskell also apologised to Williams’ mother, adding “I want to apologise for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be.”
After 32 years…Got my judges notes and ready for tonight + giving you an added treat! Tune in… https://t.co/fVqbycNfSc
— Vanessa Williams (@VWOfficial) September 13, 2015
It seems quaint now, but back in the early ’80s, it was a huge controversy – not least of all as Williams was the first ever African American Miss America. Even before the nude photos surfaced, Williams reportedly received death threats and obscene messages for being the first black winner of the famous pageant.
Once the controversy died down, Williams soon found fame through her singing and acting, releasing her debut album The Right Stuff in 1988 and earning her a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist the following year. In 1994 she made her Broadway debut and has frequently appeared in film and television, most recently in Desperate Housewives.
Despite talk of the apology having been negotiated ahead of Sunday night’s pageant, Williams described Haskell’s speech as “so unexpected, but so beautiful”.
“I did the best that I could as my reign as Miss America, 1983 to 1984,” she said. “On behalf of my family, my mother in particular, Brian Edwards, who orchestrated this entire thing to bring me back, and your leadership, your integrity, and you bringing this pageant back to what it ought to be. I love you, I love the girls, and I’m so honoured to be back.”