When former Miss America Vanessa Williams — the first Black woman to hold that title — was giving her tearful acceptance speech after being announced as the winner in the Best New Artist category at the 1989 NAACP Image Awards, she said something very touching.
After thanking her family, PolyGram Records executive Ed Eckstine (“for giving me a chance”) and her husband, Ramon Hervey, Williams said, “And I definitely also want to thank the Black community because when I needed you, you were there for me.”
The audience response was thunderous.
It was a great moment in American history — and Black history — in 1983 when the Miss America crown was placed on the head of the exceptionally beautiful Vanessa Lynn Williams from Millwood, New York.
THE NEXT 10 months were an enchanted time, but everything came crashing down when Penthouse magazine cruelly published nude pictures of Williams — sometimes with another woman — taken years before when she was a teenager.
The fact that Penthouse published the photo spread when Williams only had two months left in her Miss America reign was especially mean-spirited.
Williams relinquished the Miss America title and many people, in the media and elsewhere, dismissed her as a disgraced beauty queen and felt she was finished. But they had no idea how resilient Williams was, or how talented. True, she had been hurt, embarrassed and the brunt of jokes, but the whole thing was a major setback, not a career and life definer.
“Success is the sweetest revenge,” she later said.
THE FIRST step forward was being hired for the 1985 TV special “Motown Returns to the Apollo,” portraying the legendary Josephine Baker.
Then, in 1988, the hit records started, with “The Right Stuff” followed by an unbroken string of hits, including “(He’s Got) The Look,” “Dreamin’,” “Darlin’ I,” “Running Back to You,” “The Comfort Zone” and the No. 1 song that earned Williams a Grammy nomination, “Save the Best for Last.”
Williams also became a regular presence in film, with major roles in such hit movies as “Eraser” (with Arnold Schwarzenegger), “Soul Food,” “Light it Up” and “Shaft.”
Her television résumé is even lengthier and includes “The Jacksons – An American Dream” (miniseries), “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Ally McBeal,” “South Beach,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Bye Bye Birdie.” But she is probably best known as the take-no-prisoners Wilhelmina Slater in the long-running “Ugly Betty”
In addition, Williams, who is also an accomplished dancer, won praise for her stage work in such productions as “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “The Trip to Bountiful,” “Carmen Jones” and “After Midnight.”
ROBERT DOWNEY, JR., super-talented actor, is the ultimate triumph over adversity story. He could easily have been destroyed by his drug demons, but instead today he is one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood, a man whose name on is gold.
Downey started out with several strikes against him. For example, his father was a drug addict and, believe it or not, allowed his son to smoke marijuana at the age of six.
But even so, when he decided on a show business career, Downey made important inroads, setbacks and starts-and-stops notwithstanding.
Downey’s breakthrough came in 1992 when he won the lead role in “Chaplin,” a biopic on the legendary comic actor. He worked overtime in making sure everything was perfect…mannerisms, movements, posture, etc. He received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his efforts.
SADLY, from 1996 to 2001, there were a number of arrests for hard-core drug use. He ultimately wound up spending nearly 12 months in California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. Through it all the very likable Downey had massive support from people from all quarters who sincerely wanted him to succeed, so they cheered him on.
Upon his release, he resumed his career with multiple appearances on the popular “Ally McBeal” series, for which he received a Golden Globe award. However, he relapsed before his stint on the show was over.
But he continued to get back on horse even though being thrown from it was of his own doing.
Eventually Downey, who is also a good singer, got himself together — drug-free since mid-2003 — and began starring in a series of hugely successful movies (“blockbusters”), most notably the “Iron Man” trilogy and “Tropic Thunder.”
“The lesson is that you can make mistakes and be forgiven,” Downey said. “I’m now coming from a place of strength and humility.”
TINA TURNER is an icon and, since the beginning, one of the most exciting performers to ever step on a stage. And she has been a major influence on Beyoncé.
Back in the rhythm and blues days and beyond, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue wasn’t just a show, it was an explosion of sound and sight. Pulsating beats, soaring horns, Tina’s raw voice and, of course, the hair-tossing, wildly–gyrating Tina with the Ikettes.
In the beginning, Ike & Tina Turner was strictly a Black attraction with hits like “A Fool in Love” and “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.” But things changed in the early 1970s when the act was “discovered” by White America, and it peaked in 1971with “Proud Mary,” which is recognized all over the world as a classic and a Tina Turner staple.
BUT OFFSTAGE, as the world now knows, Tina Turner was going through hell, physically and emotionally, with her very talented but domineering and often abusive husband, and it got worse when Ike got strung out on cocaine.
When Tina finally got up the courage to leave Ike in 1976, she had to put together a show to fulfill the many engagements Ike & Turner were committed to. She also developed an act for Vegas. It was tough going, but she was determined.
As a solo act, she soared into the stratosphere in 1984 with her hit-packed, historic “Private Dancer” album featuring what would become her signature song as a solo artist, the Grammy-winning “What’s Love Got to do With It?”
Plenty of other hits followed along with several movies.
“My legacy is that I stayed on course, from the beginning to the end, because I believed in something inside of me,” Turner said.