UPSHIRE, England (Reuters) - Jade Goody, a one-time dental assistant whose final days were as closely chronicled in the media as her controversial appearances on reality television, died of cervical cancer Sunday.
The 27-year-old mother of two, who married her boyfriend in a televised ceremony only last month, died in her sleep at her home in Essex, southeast England.
“Jade died at 3.55 a.m. this morning,” her tearful mother Jackiey Budden told reporters outside the house. “Family and friends would like privacy at last.”
By endlessly poring over every detail of Goody’s losing battle with the disease, tabloid newspapers, broadsheets, gossip magazines and broadcasters have been accused of obsessing over someone who is famous for little more than being famous.
Even Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had commented on her illness, joined the tributes that poured in after her death, saying his thoughts went out to her family.
“I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Jade Goody’s death,” he said in a statement. “She was a courageous woman both in life and death and the whole country have admired her determination to provide a bright future for her children.”
Goody shot to fame in 2002 after appearing in Big Brother, a reality show in which people are locked in a house and their every move televised.
Initially ridiculed for her apparent lack of education — she thought Saddam Hussein was a boxer and a ferret was a bird — and criticised for her behaviour towards fellow competitors, she gradually won the public over with a straight-talking style.
She went on to become a regular in gossip magazines, wrote an autobiography and launched her own perfume, but her popularity sank in 2007 after racially charged tirades against Indian housemate Shilpa Shetty in Celebrity Big Brother.
It was during an appearance on an Indian version of Big Brother in August last year that she learned that she had cervical cancer. She dropped out of the show to return to Britain for treatment and later learned the cancer was terminal.
Goody’s decision to die in the public gaze, in order to earn as much money as possible for her two sons, has seen her popularity broadly restored.
Her publicist Max Clifford said she would “be remembered as a young girl who has, and who will, save an awful lot of lives.
“She was a very, very brave girl,” he said in a statement to media. “And she faced her death in the way she faced her whole life — full on, with a lot of courage.”
Cancer charities said her public battle against the disease, which saw her posing for photos despite losing her hair through chemotherapy, had encouraged thousands of women to seek prevention advice.
“She has done a great public service by raising awareness of the importance of screening during her last few months of life,” said Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK.
The intense coverage of her dying days, just like her rise to fame, has divided the British public.
“When I was a child, cancer was not on the agenda and people wouldn’t talk about it,” Maggie Fletcher, 63, from Bermondsey in southeast London where Goody was brought up, told Reuters.
“Because of Jade, women now go for regular tests and that’s a good thing. I think she has done much better than every campaign of the government could have.”
But a caretaker at her former primary school, who declined to be named, said he did not agree with all the publicity.
“Why a dying woman makes front page news — I can’t understand,” he said.
Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White and Catherine Bosley; Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Louise Ireland