Niki Taylor (born March 5, 1975) began modeling at 13, first appearing on the cover of Vogue at 15 (the youngest model to do so). She was the face of Cover Girl cosmetics, Nokia and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. First married at 19, Taylor became a mother at 20. In 1995, her beloved sister Krissy died of a rare heart ailment. Taylor herself was badly injured in a 2001 car crash.
The middle of three daughters, Niki Taylor grew up in a modest suburban home in Pembroke Pines, near Ft. Lauderdale in Florida. Her father, Ken Taylor, was a Florida Highway Patrol officer, and Barbara, her mother, was a former real estate agent. In 1989, Taylor's mother mailed photos of her daughter to modeling agencies. Taylor landed a spot with Irene Marie, a top Miami agency.
Taylor's career advanced rapidly. At age 14, she did her first shoot with Seventeen. "There's always one who comes along each year that you think is going to be a star," editor-in-chief Midge Richardson told People's Elizabeth Sporkin. "Niki is probably the most comfortable person of that age in front of the camera of anybody we have worked with."
Mindful of the dangers of letting their daughter travel alone on modeling jobs, Taylor's parents quit their jobs and took turns chaperoning her. When they couldn't travel, a relative or member of the management team would accompany her. By then they had hired an agent, lawyers, and a publicist for Niki and had formed a company to invest her money. Barbara Taylor brought Niki's older sister Joelle and younger sister Kristen (Krissy) along on one of the early shoots so they wouldn't get jealous. Krissy had a great time, but Joelle hated it. Within a year, Krissy was starting her own modeling career and appeared on the cover of Seventeen along with her sister.
Social critics bemoaned the use of such young models for adult magazines, but Taylor told Barbara Sgroi of Cosmopolitan, "Modeling came naturally to me -- I was just a normal kid who'd fly to Paris or New York City for the shows, then go back to school as if it were what everyone did." Taylor signed a multimillion-dollar cosmetics contract with L'Oreal at age 16 and later with Cover Girl. She was the youngest face to ever appear on the cover of Vogue and earned her first million by age 16.
At age 19, Taylor met and fell in love with Matt Martinez, a semi-pro football player; in 1994 they eloped. By age 20 she gave birth to twin boys, Hunter and Jake. She gained 70 pounds while pregnant, but was back to modeling within three months after their birth. The marriage ended in a bitter divorce two years later.
Sister's Tragic Death
Taylor's seemingly charmed life was struck by tragedy when she discovered the lifeless body of her younger sister, Krissy, at the family home on July 2, 1995. Taylor phoned for help as her father desperately attempted to revive his daughter. While the cause of death was originally believed to be an asthma attack, it was later discovered that Krissy suffered from a rare heart condition called right ventricular dysplasia (RVD). Krissy's death was devastating to the entire family, although over time they would say it brought them closer together. "I may be 23, but I feel like 50," Taylor explained to Cosmopolitan's Sgroi. "I've been through a lot, but everything has been a learning experience. It's made me a much wiser, stronger person."
In the years that followed, Taylor cut down on her shooting schedule to spend more time with her twins. Still, with appearances in the swimsuit issue of Sport Illustrated, Taylor's popularity soared and she became one of the most well-known models of the 1990s. By 2001 she traveled only four to six days a month to New York and was working almost exclusively for Cover Girl and Nokia (a cell phone company).
Despite the years of attention she received as a model, Taylor's friends still described her as "down-to-earth" and "unaffected," choosing to remain in her Florida home rather than move to New York or Los Angeles. However, Taylor suffered from an abuse of prescription drugs. Her problems started with a prescription to Xanax for general anxiety and progressed to the painkiller Vicodin. Several people reported incidents in which she fell asleep at restaurants, and in February of 2001, Taylor checked herself into a 28-day rehabilitation program in Maryland.
Car Accident Injuries
In the early morning on April 29, 2001, Taylor's life would take one more difficult turn. She was one of two passengers in a 1993 Nissan Maxima driven by her friend, James "Chad" Renegar, a stockbroker, that slammed into a utility pole on a quiet Atlanta street. Renegar told police he lost control of the car when he reached for a ringing cell phone. Reportedly, neither drugs nor alcohol were involved. Both Renegar and the third person in the car, John Lauck, a banker, escaped serious injury, but Taylor suffered from internal bleeding, severe liver damage, and a shattered vertebra. Her face was not injured.
For the first few weeks, Taylor's condition was touch-and-go and her doctor warned that she was in danger of losing her life. When Taylor became fully conscious after two months she guessed that she had been in the hospital for only four days. Her slow recovery included 40 surgical procedures over the next four months. Taylor left Grady Memorial Hospital on June 26, 2001 and moved into a private rehabilitation facility in Atlanta. After so many weeks in intensive care she required extensive rehabilitation. Her biggest motivator was seeing her sons, who were cared for by their father during Taylor's months of recuperation. "All I wanted was to live to see my boys again," Taylor told US Weekly' s Ken Baker.
Finally, on July 17, 2001, Taylor was reunited with her sons in Florida. ". . . It could be a year before I feel even close to normal," she explained to Baker. "Modeling has been the furthest thing from my mind through this whole ordeal. I'm not making any decisions right now about it. A job is a job. I am much more interested in life."
Later that year, Taylor made her first public appearance since the accident as a presenter at the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards.
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