Duval County

Miss America 1993 and Jacksonville native, Leanza Cornett, dies after brain injury from fall

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Update, 10/28/2020: A family spokesperson told Action News Jax that Leanza Cornett succumbed to her injuries Wednesday, Oct. 28.

The Miss America Organization released the following statement:

It is with great sadness the Miss America Organization relays the news our beloved Miss America and friend, Leanza Cornett, has passed away. Leanza had a bright and beautiful spirit and her laugh was infectious. We know she meant so much to so many, including all of you. We are devastated by this sudden loss in our Miss America family and we are deeply sorry for her family and close friends for their loss. At the moment, we do not have any further information regarding a service for Leanza and we ask that you please respect her family during this difficult time. Hold on tight to those you love today. Time is certainly precious.

—  Miss America Organization

Original story from 10/19/2020 below:

Jacksonville native, Leanza Cornett, 49, who was crowned Miss America 1993 and Miss Florida 1992, is recovering from a brain injury suffered in a fall.

Friend and family spokesperson, Elizabeth Tobin Kurtz, tells Action News Jax Cornett suffered the injury on the evening of Monday, Oct. 12, and underwent surgery the next morning.

“Leanza Cornett, Jacksonville’s own Miss Florida 1992 and Miss America 1993, is recovering from a fall that required a decompressive craniectomy, performed to relieve pressure, treat brain swelling and manage bleeding,” said Kurtz in a news release on Monday. “Doctors cannot speculate on the time Leanza may need to move through this phase of recovery as every brain injury is different.”

The release by Kurtz also included a quote from Leanza’s mother.

“Right now, [we] need to give her body time to heal. No news is good news,” said Patti Cornett, Leanza’s mother.

Cornett, a mother of two, is a graduate of Terry Parker High School, and lives in Jacksonville.

In addition to her pageant victories, Leanza sang in the Christian Music Group “Area Code” in the early ’90s, performed as Ariel in Walt Disney World MGM Studios' “Voyage of the Little Mermaid Show,” and held a career as a network TV broadcaster.

Kurtz spoke to Action News Jax Reporter Ryan Nelson in an interview on Monday.

“She is one of the most open, and gentle, and amazing spirits,” said Kurtz.

Kurtz shared her immediate reaction to news of Cornett’s injury.

“My first response, like Leanza would do, was, ‘OK, this is what we’re dealing with, let’s deal with it with as much grace and positivity as we possibly can,’” said Kurtz.

Kurtz tells us she and Cornett became friends while working together on the set of the Little Mermaid show. She reflected on the early days of their friendship.

“You knew there was something special about her the moment she walked into a room,” said Kurtz. “And it wasn’t about her beauty, because we know she was beautiful; it was about the way she glowed.”

Nelson also spoke to Miss Georgia 1986, Marlesa Ball Greiner, who says she knows Cornett through the Miss America Organization.

Greiner, now a vocalist and music teacher in Alabama, says Cornett has impacted many lives, and continues to do so.

“She probably doesn’t even know this … I have shown her Miss America talent video to many of my young girls, as an inspiration,” said Greiner. “As the way that she performed with passion the night that she was crowned Miss America. So, she reaches young girls here in our country that have never had the opportunity to meet her.”

Greiner says the Christian faith is something she and Cornett have in common.

“Most important is that we pray for [Leanza],” said Greiner. “I know that she serves a God that performs miracles.”

Kurtz tells Action News Jax Cornett used her platform in the ’90s to become a champion of AIDS awareness.

Kurtz says Cornett was often seen wearing a red ribbon, which is a common symbol of AIDS awareness and support.

“If you look at some of her yellow pageant dresses, you’ll see that she’s wearing the red ribbon for awareness,” said Kurtz. “Leanza worked tirelessly to bring awareness, to reduce the stigma and to spread love.”

Kurtz says Cornett’s family is requesting privacy and prayer at this time.