Jade Goody dies at 27; British reality TV star had public battle with cancer

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Jade Goody, a reality show star whose bad behavior before the cameras catapulted her to tabloid fame and whose public battle with cancer set off a media frenzy that continued to test the bounds of social decency in Britain, died Sunday. She was 27.

Goody’s death was announced by her mother, Jackiey Budden, who told reporters that her daughter’s family and friends “would like privacy at last.”

The cause of death was cervical cancer, a diagnosis Goody learned, tearfully and publicly, on television last year. She decided to keep the cameras rolling on her life, allowing the media to document the progression of her illness on a near-daily basis.


The relentless glare of the spotlight as she went bald from chemotherapy, as she discovered last month that she had only weeks to live and as she continued giving interviews from her hospital bed made Britons squeamish, even as they lapped it up.

Goody said she did not care what other people thought, declaring her determination to make as much money as she could for her two young sons and to raise awareness of cervical cancer. She accomplished both, selling magazine rights to her wedding last month, reportedly for more than $1 million, and sparking a noticeable jump in the number of women who went in for cervical screening.

“I’ve lived in front of the cameras. And maybe I’ll die in front of them,” she said.

The daughter of drug addicts, Goody was born June 5, 1981, in London. She rose to fame as a contestant on the show “Big Brother” in 2002, quickly coming to represent a particular kind of Briton that commentators bemoan as the worst the nation has to offer: uneducated, foul-mouthed, ill-mannered and often drunk.

The former dental assistant was ridiculed for going around topless, shouting at her housemates on the show, mangling words (“tictactical” for “tactical”), asking if Rio de Janeiro was a person, declaring strawberries to be vegetables and wondering if the eye-like markings on peacock feathers were the birds’ actual eyes.

But the ignorance was paired with an apparent savvy that allowed Goody to cash in on the public recognition, however contemptuous. She lost on “Big Brother” but went on to open a beauty salon, launch her own perfume, make exercise videos and write an autobiography.

She managed to keep herself in the tabloids and on television. Like Paris Hilton, only without the inheritance, Goody was famous for being famous. That appalled social commentators, who saw it as a debasing of British culture, but enthralled the readers and viewers, who began to regard her as an embarrassing but endearing sort of everywoman.


To a nation that enjoys putting people up on pedestals and then knocking them off, Goody’s performance in the 2007 season of “Celebrity Big Brother” was occasion for further glee. When she directed a racial insult at a fellow contestant, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, the media and the public turned on her, voting her off the show in huge numbers.

Shaken, Goody later apologized -- on television. In another public act of contrition, she visited Shetty’s homeland, India, and last summer appeared on a version of “Big Brother” in the South Asian nation, where, it turned out, her media-saturated life would begin its last chapter.

On camera, Goody learned that test results showed she had cancer, a genuinely emotional scene replayed over and over on television and the Internet. She quickly returned to England.

Her decision to let the cameras broadcast her final months of life triggered debate over exploitation -- by both the media and by Goody -- and public voyeurism.

Regardless, millions of Britons followed her every move, including her wedding to boyfriend Jack Tweed, who had just been released from prison after assaulting a 16-year-old with a golf club. In an extraordinary move, the British government temporarily relaxed Tweed’s curfew so that he could spend the wedding day and night with Goody.

After the announcement of her death Sunday, fans and well-wishers praised her courage and laid bouquets of flowers outside her home in Essex.


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a statement saying that “the whole country has admired her determination to provide a bright future for her children. She will be remembered fondly by all who knew her, and her family can be extremely proud of the work she has done to raise awareness of cervical cancer, which will benefit thousands of women across the U.K.”

In the end, Goody lived -- and died -- on her own terms, said her publicist, Max Clifford.

“It was the way she wanted it -- her life, her death, in the spotlight,” Clifford told the BBC, “because she wanted it to be in the spotlight.”