Miss Universe New Zealand Finalist Amber-Lee Friis Dies at 23: ‘A Force to Be Reckoned With’
Amber-Lee Friis, the beauty queen who went on to become a finalist in the Miss Universe New Zealand pageant, died on Monday. She was 23.
The CEO of Miss World New Zealand, Nigel Godfrey, confirmed Friis’ passing in a Facebook tribute post on Tuesday.
“The world is a lesser place without her in it,” Godfrey wrote. “She had a great deal more to give and it is a dreadful tragedy that she won’t be here to realise her unlimited potential. RIP Amber Lee you have left us far, far too soon.”
Godfrey recalled what made Friis so special, calling her a “force to be reckoned with.”
“She was feisty, definitely took no prisoners, but she was a beautiful soul and you 100% knew what you were getting,” he added. “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,” Godfrey went on. “Amber Lee turned her life, and indeed her experience with us around, and into an incredibly positive force for good. In the years since she has been loyal and supportive and we value that above anything.”
At this time, it is unclear how Friis died.
In a statement to PEOPLE, the New Zealand Police Department confirmed they responded to a “sudden death” on May 18 and that the death had been referred to the coroner.© Provided by People Amber-Lee Friis/Facebook Amber-Lee Friis
Hailing from Auckland, Friis was one of the finalists during the 2018 Miss Universe New Zealand pageant, according to her Facebook page.
The accomplishment marked a major milestone for the young model, who struggled for years with her self-confidence after she was bullied by her classmates because of her tan skin and eyes, NZ Stuff reported.
“I remember sitting in my room one night and thinking how hard life could be. At a young age you feel the world is weighing on your shoulders,” she told the outlet in 2018. “I had a negative outlook on everything. I pictured myself as being an angry, fat, old lady but then I thought: This is not what I want to be like.”
Friis said her 18th birthday was a turning point, as she decided to set goals, save money and work out, according to NZ Stuff.
Eventually, she was contacted by someone working with the Miss Universe NZ pageant and later became one of 20 finalists to compete for the crown.
“I was like a lost sheep before I started writing down goals and started focusing on what I wanted to do. I felt stuck and helpless. No one ever has to feel that way,” she told NZ Stuff. “I want to help young girls see their potential and set up a life-plan to achieve it.”
Following the devastating news, many who knew Friis expressed their heartbreak on social media.
“It is with immense sadness we acknowledge the sudden passing of a beautiful and talented Wahine Amber-lee Friis,” wrote The Talent Tree, an Auckland-based agency that once represented Friis.
“Amber-Lee was one of our original Models for The Talent Tree and a finalist in 2018 Miss Universe NZ (Miss World New Zealand),” the agency continued. “Our sincere aroha and condolences to Amber-Lee’s family and friends. R.I.P beautiful lady 😪❤😪”
Miss World New Zealand also wrote on its Facebook page: “Our sincerest condolences to the friends and whānau of Amber-lee Friis, whom we have just learned from The Talent Tree has passed away. Continue shining brightly, Amber-lee, just as we remembered you.”
People – Joelle Goldstein