By Lorenz Duchamps, The Epoch Times
A former Miss Universe New Zealand finalist Amber-Lee Friis suddenly died Monday at age 23.
The New Zealand Police Department said in a statement that Friis’s cause of death is currently unclear. Officials told People they responded to a “sudden death,” and that the beauty queen’s death has been referred to the coroner.
No other details about her death are currently known.
“It is with immense sadness we acknowledge the sudden passing of a beautiful and talented Wahine Amber-lee Friis,” her talent agency said on Facebook, adding a picture of the 2018 Miss Universe New Zealand finalist.
“Amber-Lee was one of our original models for The Talent Tree,” the statement continued. “Our sincere aroha and condolences to Amber-Lee’s family and friends. R.I.P beautiful lady.”
Friis was part of the 2018 Miss Universe New Zealand competition and was one of 20 finalists, Stuff reported. The beauty queen traveled to Thailand as part of the pageant.
Tributes poured in following the news of Friis’s death.
Nigel Godfrey, the CEO of Miss World New Zealand posted a lengthy tribute on Facebook and said Friis “was a force to be reckoned with.”
“She was feisty, definitely took no prisoners, but she was a beautiful soul and you 100 percent knew what you were getting,” Godfrey wrote. “She was genuine, honest, and she had an energy few others possess, her heart was most definitely in the right place.”
“We liked and respected her and were very proud to call her a friend, long after the competition had finished,” he continued.
“She had a great deal more to give and it is a dreadful tragedy that she won’t be here to realize her unlimited potential,” the tribute read. “RIP Amber-Lee you have left us far, far too soon.”
Miss World New Zealand’s official Facebook page also paid tribute to the model, saying, “Continue shining brightly, Amber-Lee, just as we remembered you.”
Friis shared an inspiring life-changing story during an interview with Stuff in 2018.
At age 15, she started to work at a Pizza Hut three nights a week while studying to become a mechanic. Friis said she grew up in what she describes as a “typical West Auckland” environment, and some nights there was no dinner on the table.
“I remember sitting in my room one night and thinking how hard life could be,” the beauty pageant recalled. “At a young age you feel the world is weighing on your shoulders.”
While working at Pizza Hut, Friis gained weight, weighing 211 pounds (96 kilograms) at age 16.
Friis said she decided to turn her life around when she landed her first job at age 18. She started to work hard and work out at a gym, and within six months, she had lost weight and got her own apartment, she told Stuff.
She said a woman sent her a private message on her personal Instagram account and asked if she was interested in competing in the Miss World New Zealand competition, which she at first thought was a scam.
However, after she learned that the woman was legitimate, Friis decided to join the competition. She said that she “never expected in a million years” to be a beauty pageant.
“Amber-Lee turned her life, and indeed her experience with us around, and into an incredibly positive force for good,” Miss World New Zealand CEO Godfrey recalled. “In the years since she has been loyal and supportive and we value that above anything.”
From The Epoch Times