Deleese Williams, a young Texas woman so ill at ease with her looks that she avoided family photos, saw ABC’s “Extreme Makeover” as a chance to have the face she had always wanted.
After medical and psychological exams, intense personal interviews and the promise of a Cindy Crawford smile, Williams was slated for plastic surgery in Los Angeles.
But at the last minute, her reality TV makeover was scrapped and she was put on a plane home.
“Back in Texas, Deleese tried to hide,” her attorneys said in a lawsuit. “She and her family were devastated, humiliated, crushed, embarrassed and ashamed.”
Perhaps no one more so than her sister, Kellie McGee. While trying to help Williams’ bid for a makeover, she was goaded by producers into videotaping “hurtful and horrific statements” about her sister’s appearance to heighten the drama, the lawsuit alleged.
A successful makeover might have removed the sting from McGee’s comments, but after it fell through McGee had become so guilt-ridden that she killed herself four months later, the lawsuit said.
“Sometimes Deleese blames herself for Kellie’s death,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and settled last fall for an undisclosed sum.
ABC expressed condolences to Williams’ family but defended its actions, saying that producers repeatedly had informed Williams that her makeover could be canceled at any time for any reason. An attorney for the TV network, parent company Walt Disney Co. and the producers declined to comment.
Williams, who had applied for the makeover, was 28 when she learned she was a candidate. She flew to Los Angeles, where doctors recommended a host of surgeries, including an “eye lift, chin implant, ears pulled back and breast implants,” court records showed.
The producers later sent a film crew to Williams’ hometown of Conroe, Texas, to interview her relatives. First up was McGee, her younger sister.
“As the interview began, Kellie tried to discuss some of Deleese’s positive attributes,” the complaint stated, but the interviewers “thwarted these attempts by peppering Kellie with questions about her childhood with the ‘ugly Deleese.’ ”
As McGee tearfully owned up to her “sometimes cruel past treatment” of her sister, Williams was listening to the interview in the next room, the lawsuit alleged. She later learned that her husband and mother-in-law also had made hurtful comments.
“Through all this my friends and family, who have never said anything before, have said things that made me realize that, ‘Yes, I was right and everyone did think I looked like a freak,’ ” the lawsuit quoted Williams as saying.
In January 2004, Williams spent two weeks in Los Angeles visiting doctors’ offices, a film studio and a gym. But on the eve of her life-changing surgery, which was to include breaking and resetting her jaw, a producer went to her hotel room and told her that the makeover was canceled: Her lengthy recovery wouldn’t fit the show’s schedule, the producer said.
Williams was devastated and embarrassed to go home “in the same condition in which she left,” the lawsuit said. It alleged that her marriage suffered, as did her relationship with McGee, who had bipolar disorder and could not forgive herself for what she had said.
Racked with guilt, McGee committed suicide in May 2004 with an overdose of drugs and alcohol, according to the lawsuit. She is survived by two children, whom Williams is raising.