Vanessa Williams: Snapshot

Name
Vanessa Williams
Date of Birth
March 18, 1963
Birth Place
New York, N.Y.
Before sharpening her villainous claws to play Wilhelmina Slater, the backstabbing fashion magazine editor on ABC's Ugly Betty, Williams was best known for her appearance in a different kind of magazine.

The first African-American to win the Miss America title, Williams was forced to give up her crown ten months later when nude photos of her were sold to Penthouse. During Pageantgate, she retreated to Millwood, N.Y., where her parents supported her as publicist-turned-husband Ramon Hervey II helped stage her comeback.

Williams eventually became a platinum-selling recording artist, Tony-nominated Broadway actress, film and Emmy-nominated TV star. Her 1991 hit song "Save the Best for Last" could serve as the anthem for this twice-married, and now happily single working mother of four, whose stunning green eyes made her one of PEOPLE's Most Beautiful.

Vanessa Williams: Five Fun Facts

  1. Vanessa Williams' description of her infamous racy photos? "I looked like a New Wave female cop," she told PEOPLE in 1984.
  2. At home in Chappaqua, N.Y., Vanessa Williams is not far from another famous scandal survivor. "The Clintons are just up the road," she told the Post-Standard newspaper.
  3. Vanessa Williams had her Miss America pin embedded in the ceiling of a powder room in her home.
  4. Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner turned down a chance to buy the nude photos of Vanessa Williams. "They clearly weren't authorized (by Williams) and because they would be the source of considerable embarrassment to her, we decided not to publish them," Hefner told PEOPLE in 1984.
  5. Vanessa Williams' ex-husband Rick Fox played her bodyguard on the second season of Ugly Betty.

Vanessa Williams: Biography

1983

Vanessa Williams

September 17

Here She Is...Miss America

Williams becomes the first African American to be crowned Miss America, but with much controversy. The Moral Majority bristles when Williams, who is Catholic, expresses pro-choice views, while she finds herself defending her choice of having a white boyfriend. "I never imagined I'd be that depressed about being Miss America," Williams, who receives racist hate mail and even death threats during her reign, tells PEOPLE. The magazine names her one of its 25 Most Intriguing People of 1983.

1984

Vanessa Williams

July 23

Vanessa the Undressa

Nude photos of Williams taken in 1982 with another woman are sold to Penthouse, and Williams is pressured to give up her crown and at least $2 million worth of contracts. Williams vows to fight back, telling PEOPLE, "I am not a lesbian and I am not a slut, and somehow I am going to make people believe me." Her camp hires publicist Ramon Hervey to do damage control after the scandal.

1988

Vanessa Williams

February

The Right Stuff

Williams releases her first album, The Right Stuff. "I had to beg people to give me any songs at all because nobody thought that they would be hits," she later tells USA Today in 1997. But Williams proves skeptics wrong when the album goes gold and produces three Grammy nominations.

Read More on Vanessa Williams' Life

Photo Credits

Top Left: Andy Ryan/Corbis

BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): AP; amazon.com

Edited by Julia Wang

Vanessa Williams

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