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Cheslie Kryst’s mother is opening up about the struggles the star endured leading up to her death.
The 2019 winner of the Miss USA pageant and “Extra” correspondent passed away in January of this year at age 30. Police said Kryst jumped from a New York City apartment building and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Three months after her passing, April Simpkins sat down with Jada Pinkett Smith, her daughter Willow Smith and her mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris for an episode of “Red Table Talk” that airs Wednesday. Simpkins said it’s been “healing” to talk about her beloved daughter while raising awareness on the importance of mental health.
“I think what shocked so many people is when you see her on television, when you see her on Instagram, TikTok, she’s smiling, she’s bubbly, and that was Cheslie,” Simpkins shared during her appearance. “But Cheslie was also battling depression, which she hid.”
Miss USA Cheslie Kryst passed away in January at age 30. (Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage)
“Did you see any preliminary signs?” asked Willow, 21.
‘I did,” Simpkins replied. “I knew Cheslie was suffering from depression. I didn’t know the severity of it. This was not her first suicide attempt. She attempted suicide before, and it was after that first attempt that she and I grew very close. I wanted her to feel comfortable calling me. If ever you’re in crisis, call me. And she began taking all the right steps.”
According to Simpkins, she started noticing signs when Kryst was “in her early 20s.” She shared that just before that first attempt, her “smiles were a little forced.” But afterward, the pair grew closer and Kryst saw a counselor to help take care of her mental health.
Kryst, a former Division I athlete and North Carolina attorney, won the Miss USA pageant in May 2019 and competed in the Miss Universe pageant that year.
Cheslie Kryst’s mother and stepfather appeared on Wednesday’s episode of “Red Table Talk.” (Jordan Fisher)
When Kryst was crowned, it marked more than a personal triumph. It meant that for the first time, three Black women were the reigning Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss America.
The University of South Carolina also praised the former student-athlete, calling her “a woman of many talents.” Kryst also held an MBA from Wake Forest University.
Simpkins shared that Kryst was her “best friend” and the women spoke every morning. On Sunday, Jan. 30 Simpkins was leaving from her workout class and on her way to call her daughter. But when she looked at her phone, she saw a text message. It was from Kryst. By the time she spotted the message, an hour had passed. She described reading the text and blacking out. She soon called her husband screaming.
Simpkins tearfully read some of the contents of that message to the hosts who were already crying.
Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst died on Jan. 30, 2022, from suicide. (Dia Dipasupil/WireImage)
“First, I’m sorry,” Simpkins read. “By the time you get this, I won’t be alive anymore. And it makes me even more sad to write this because I know it will hurt you the most. I wish I could stay with you, but I cannot bear the crushing weight of persistent sadness, hopelessness and loneliness any longer.”
“I never told you these feelings because I never wanted you to worry, and I hoped they would eventually change,” she continued. “But I know they never will. They follow me through every accomplishment, success, family gathering, friendly dinner. I cry almost every day like I’m in mourning. I’ve wished for death for years. And I know you would want to know and want to help. But I haven’t wanted to share this weight with anyone.”
In the message, Kryst described how she no longer felt like she had any purpose in life. The feeling of hopelessness led her to push “most of my friends” away.
“… I will leave and rejoin God in heaven, and hope to find peace there,” Simpkins read. “I don’t want to leave but I genuinely feel like I have to if I want to escape my loneliness that feels like it has no end. I fought against depression for a long time, but it won this time around.”
Cheslie Kryst, Miss North Carolina USA 2019, is crowned Miss USA at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino’s Grand Theatre on May 2, 2019. (The Miss Universe Organization)
According to police, Kryst’s body was found in front of the Orion building, a high-rise in midtown Manhattan. The family immediately hopped on a plane to New York City when investigators confirmed the news. A note was found at Kryst’s apartment stating she wanted to leave everything to her mother.
Simpkins said it took her a while to eventually read the entire text. Every time she tried, she would “collapse.” She noted to the hosts that the day of Kryst’s death felt like any other and she didn’t feel that something was wrong before life, as she knew it, forever changed.
Hours before her death, Kryst uploaded a photo of herself on Instagram and captioned It, “May this day bring you rest and peace.”
The segment described Kryst as having “high-functioning depression,” where someone can function in their day-to-day life, but still experience significant feelings of depression.
April Simpkins and her husband David Simpkins noted that talking about Cheslie Kryst has been healing. (Jordan Fisher)
“Depression is not always marked by someone laying in bed and unable to do things,” Simpkins clarified.
Kryst had previously written an essay for Allure about turning 30 and the pressures that came with it.
“A grinning, crinkly-eyed glance at my achievements thus far makes me giddy about laying the groundwork for more, but turning 30 feels like a cold reminder that I’m running out of time to matter in society’s eyes – and it’s infuriating,” she reflected in 2021.
Simpkins was later accompanied by Kryst’s stepfather, David Simpkins. They described to the hosts how as a family, they talked to grief counselors. David shared that Kryst’s father, Rodney Kryst, was very much a part of his daughter’s life.
Cheslie Kryst is survived by her parents and five siblings. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Simpkins also described how hurtful it has been to read rumors and conspiracy theories on social media insisting that Kryst was murdered.
“I know that my daughter died by suicide,” she said. “And it’s painful to hear people constantly contradicting what we absolutely know… Let our family heal.”
Pinkett Smith, 50, also shared how in her early 20s,, she too lost a very close friend named Maxine “similarly to the way that you lost your daughter.”
“I will say that the memories may not stay burned in your mind, but the thing that never leaves is the love,” said the actress. “… I had to learn through a lot of my own grief counseling that I didn’t have to hold on to grief to remember the people that I love.”
Kryst is survived by her parents and five siblings.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
“Red Table Talk” airs on Wednesday at 12 p.m. on Facebook Watch. The Associated Press contributed to this report.