When the news of Tawny Kitaen’s death hit over the weekend, various images from her career flooded into the heads of fans. People who came of age in the Eighties remembered her appearance on the cover of the 1984 Ratt album Out of the Cellar and her role as Tom Hanks’ fiancée that same year in Bachelor Party. People a bit younger remembered her as Jerry’s girlfriend in the 1991 Seinfeld episode “The Nose Job,” or her tumultuous real-life marriage to Major League Baseball pitcher Chuck Finley. In recent years, she was best known for appearances on reality shows like The Surreal Life and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
But the Tawny Kitaen moment that created the most indelible image in the public consciousness took place in 1987 when she appeared in the video for Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.” She was dating frontman David Coverdale at the time (they’d marry in 1989) and he also placed her in the videos for “Still of the Night,” “Is This Love,” “The Deeper the Love,” and “Fool for Your Loving.” In an odd way, the clips made her more famous than Coverdale himself.
The very first image from the “Here I Go Again” video is Kitaen cartwheeling from the hood of a white Jaguar XJ to a black Jaguar XJ in a white negligee. From there, it cuts between images of Whitesnake miming to the song, Kitaen writhing around the hoods of the cars, and Coverdale and Kitaen driving around town with an incredible disregard for their own safety. Kitaen has about 95 percent of her body out of the passenger window at one point, and at other points she’s making out with Coverdale and doing her best to distract him from driving. The video ends with her pulling him into the backseat.
There’s no real story or message to the video beyond “Tawny Kitaen is very flexible and doesn’t care much for seatbelts or basic safety measures on the road.” And even though she briefly exposes her nipple while hanging out the window, she stays remarkably clothed by the standards of Eighties metal videos. But there was still something about her car-hood acrobatics that helped many teens of the time get through puberty.
“Even by the exceedingly high standards of models, actresses and video vixens Kitaen was extraordinarily beautiful,” pop culture writer Nathan Rabin wrote in a recent tribute. “But she was more than beautiful. She was luminescent. The camera loved her. She had that ineffable X factor that makes someone a star. She had swagger. She radiated sex and life.”
Kitaen’s cause of death has not been revealed, but she battled drug and alcohol addiction in her final years. Her roles were reduced to reality shows like the plastic surgery show Botched and B movies like the 2014 erotic thriller After Midnight. But the “Here I Go Again” video has been viewed 97 million times on YouTube, and continues to rack up more every day. In the world of that video, Kitaen is forever young, forever limber, and forever hanging out the window of a moving Jaguar. It’s an image so iconic that it almost defines an entire era of musical history. That’s a pretty cool legacy.