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Leanza Cornett (1971–2020), former Miss America

by Linnea Crowther

Leanza Cornett was a TV personality and musician who was crowned Miss Florida in 1992 and Miss America in 1993.

Pageant and performing career

Before she was crowned Miss Florida, Cornett was the first to play Ariel in the live-action “Voyage of the Little Mermaid” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and she was in the contemporary Christian music group Area Code. In 1991, she was crowned Miss National Sweetheart before moving on to fame as Miss America, the first Miss Florida ever to win the national pageant. Cornett made AIDS awareness and prevention her platform as Miss America, having already been active in volunteering with HIV service organizations. She became the first Miss America winner to focus on AIDS awareness for her platform. Cornett was also among the first Miss America winners who refused to wear the crown in her public appearances during her year of service after winning. She went on to a career as a TV personality, hosting shows including “Entertainment Tonight” and “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?”

Cornett on her controversial decision to stand up for people living with AIDS

“I had decided to champion AIDS as my cause going to Miss America no matter what. I met with the Executive Director of Miss Florida and told her and the rest of the Board that it wasn’t an option for me to do or speak out for anything else. The Florida board and everyone I worked with supported me wholeheartedly. I was surprised, simply because in 1992 the only people you heard about as activists were groups like ACT UP.” —from a 2015 interview with Mark S. King

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Tributes to Leanza Cornett

Full obituary: NJ Advance Media

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