Melissa Bucci points to a blue-inked daisy on the side of her left foot, by her big toe. "Just three weeks ago Krissy and I went and got matching tattoos," explains Mel, as her best friend, Krissy Taylor, always called her. "Daisies and sunflowers are our favorite flowers." Above the daisy's petals are three newly-tattooed letters: KET---for Kristen Erin Taylor. In four hours, Mel will be going to her memorial service.
Krissy Taylor's death at age 17 cut short not only the career of a strikingly beautiful model, but also the life of an incredibly sweet, down-to-earth girl who dotted the "i" in her name with a daisy and loved country music, Brad Pitt and her Chevy pickup truck, "Big Blue."
"Krissy never really knew her beauty," says Donna Rubinstein, model editor of Seventeen, which has featured both Krissy and her supermodel sister, Niki, since the girls were 11 and 14, respectively. "She almost seemed embarrassed when people wanted to take her picture."
It was 20-year-old Niki who found Krissy unconscious on the living-room floor of their parents' home in Pembroke Pines, Florida, in the early hours of Sunday, July 2. Krissy had spent Saturday afternoon with Mel and her other sister, Joelle, 23, watching a friend's motorcycle race. "Krissy and I had the same general circle of friends, and if we weren't doing something together, we were talking on the phone constantly," says Joelle, a mother and secretary. That night, Krissy and Mel went to a football game played by the Miami Hooters, the professional arena team coached by Niki's husband (the father of her then-7-month-old twin boys). After picking up a friend at the airport, Krissy returned home after midnight. At about 2:30 a.m., she kissed her mother good night, then called Mel, as usual, to say good night. "We always said 'I love you,'" Mel says. "Those were the last words we said to each other."
The last person Krissy spoke to on the phone was Joelle, who has said that Krissy was still upset about a fight she'd had with friends a few days earlier. At about 4:30 a.m., Niki (who had also been at the Hooters game) came to the house and found Krissy. Niki called 911 and tried to revive her sister, but an hour later, Krissy was pronounced dead at the hospital. Mel, awakened by a call from the police says she "thought it was a joke---I was about to hang up. Then Nik got on the phone and just said, 'Mel?' And I said, 'Come get me.' I could just tell from her voice."
As Seventeen goes to press, no one has been able to tell Krissy's devastated family what caused her death. Preliminary tests showed no alcohol or illegal drugs in her system, but Krissy had used Primatene Mist, a non-prescription asthma medicine, within the two hours before she died. Although she didn't have asthma [or at least didn't know it at the time], she relied on the drug to alleviate occasional shortness of breath.
Inhalants such as Primatene are sometimes used by models and teens to relieve stress. According to Dr. Ken Fujioka, medical director of Scripps Center for Weight Management and Research in San Diego, some models also use these inhalants to try to lose or maintain weight, because the adrenaline they contain can slightly boost calorie burning.
But the main effect of adrenaline is to speed up the heart rate, meaning that for 126-pound Krissy---who was known to share a bucket of fried chicken with Niki on photo shoots, and who described herself as "one of those types who eats anything and everything"---the use of Primatene may have led to heart failure. (Only three deaths in more than 30 years have ever been linked to Primatene, whose manufacturer warns against its use without a doctor's diagnosis of asthma.)
Krissy lived in a modest ranch house, one of many almost identical homes on her street in suburban Pembroke Pines. Her father, Ken, is a retired Florida Highway Patrol officer, and her mother, Barbara, worked as a real estate agent before quitting to manage her model daughters' careers. Krissy's interest in modeling was inspired by Niki, whose career took off after she appeared on the August 1989 cover of Seventeen. "I watched Niki on a couple of shoots and kinda got interested," Krissy recalled in a February 1994 interview. "Next thing I knew, I was shooting with Niki and doing runway shows in Milan."
Spurred by their mother, Niki, at age 14, became the youngest model ever signed by L'Oréal cosmetics, and Krissy began to pose alongside her sister. The stunning, extremely close siblings first appeared together on our cover in January 1992. They were so supportive of each other, "it was almost like a marriage, like they were part of the same unit," says Seventeen's creative director, Nancy Hessel Weber. Adds photographer Scott Teitler, who shot the first photos of Krissy---and the last: "They were always so unaffected, and you never sensed any competition between them."
The statuesque pair, nearly six feet tall, slender and blonde, looked alot alike (though Krissy didn't have Niki's Cindy Crawford-style mole), but the two had fairly different personalities. Krissy never liked to travel, while Niki has always been willing to jet as far away as Greece on a moment's notice. And while Niki is very high-energy on shoots, Krissy was more reserved. Once, when a photographer tried to prompt Krissy to run and jump around on the beach like her sister, Krissy stopped in the middle of the shoot and patiently informed him, "I am not Niki."
But Krissy, who went on to appear by herself on the cover of Seventeen as well as YM and the Australian magazine Dolly, had thousands of her own fans; she received more than 30,000 e-mail letters soon after becoming the first model to have her own page on the Internet. As successful as she was, though, Krissy never really thought of herself as a model. Though she left high school in 1993 to be privately tutored, Krissy still considered modeling a part-time job at best, a way for her to make money to buy Reba McEntire CDs and her beloved pickup truck. She talked about being a massage therapist someday, but in the meantime, the business card she carried---a birthday gift from friends---provided her beeper number and read: KRISTEN TAYLOR, REDNECK GIRL, 24-7.
Krissy avoided Miami's model-heavy club scene, preferring to go line-dancing or hang out with friends at places like IHOP, Pizza Hut and Chili's. This year, Krissy attended the prom with her last real boyfriend, a guy she grew up with named Joey Charles. Says Mel, "People probably think she had some kind of crazy life, but she really didn't."
Krissy did her last shoot with Niki in the first week of June, for Miami-based Ocean Drive magazine. The photographer was Teitler, the same one who had taken Krissy and Niki's first pictures for Seventeen. "What's so great is that they still had that kind of sister thing going on," says Teitler. "They were very, very playful with each other." A week after Krissy's death, the sisters' photo ran as planned on the magazine's cover.
Krissy's memorial service, held in a park near her home on July 7, was not a media or modeling-industry event. Family and friends brought daisies and sunflowers, placed them in Krissy's truck and listened to her favorite country music. Several people shared their memories of her, and Krissy's mom and dad handed out photos of her with a tribute that read, in part: "Her smile was like sunshine, her laughter like puppies, her spirit as free as the wind." Niki, too upset to speak at the service, had Krissy's name newly tattooed on her hand.
"You know how people say you have only one true love in your life? Well, Krissy was like my one true friendship," says Mel, whose sister plans to name a soon-to-be-born daughter Kristen. "She will always be a part of our lives. I'll never forget her---never."Written by Sadie Van Gelder.