Jael Strauss appeared to be full of promise when she became a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. Tall and fresh-faced, she was plucked from obscurity and thrust onto the hit show to compete for a coveted modeling contract. But when Strauss’ life looked as though it may be on the up, she would ultimately be hit with some tragic news.
Strauss was born in Detroit, Michigan, in July 1984, but she wouldn’t find fame until 2007 – the year she appeared in the eighth cycle of America’s Next Top Model. Yes, despite there being plenty of competition, she made it through the initial audition process and became one of the lucky women to appear on the popular show.
And Strauss was emotional from the outset, crying as she was interviewed by host Tyra Banks. “I came into this not understanding why I was chosen at all,” she later explained on camera. But the aspiring model’s tears didn’t appear to have been a hindrance when Banks and her team whittled the hopefuls down to the few who would become fully fledged contestants. Strauss, you see, made the final cut.
There were ups and downs along the way, however. While Strauss was serving up some stunning pictures on her photoshoots, she was also grieving. During her time on the show, a friend of hers had passed away due to an overdose; and, naturally, the then 22-year-old was shaken by the loss.
But refusing to be defeated, Strauss continued on in the hope of taking the show’s crown. Asked in April 2007 by Reality TV World whether she had contemplated quitting, Strauss said, “Definitely not. There was never, never a question in my mind to leave the competition. My friend is gone, and I am still here living life to the fullest.”
In the end, then, Strauss finished a respectable sixth in the eighth cycle of America’s Next Top Model. Banks seemed to think that she had a future in the industry, too, as she told Strauss that the hopeful had “a lot of potential.” And, for her part, a tearful Strauss said that the contest had “changed [her] life tremendously.”
Later, Strauss revealed that her time being on the show had also made her realize her own strength. “I learned a lot about myself,” she told Reality TV World. “I am so proud to see that I am strong, and I was able to do it.”
And even though Strauss’ Top Model dream was over, the future still looked bright. She managed to earn a contract at Otto Models, for one, meaning a career within the industry remained very much in reach. Strauss ultimately racked up a few acting roles, too, in movies such as S&M: Sex & Money and Wrath/Anger.
But just a few years later, Strauss’ life had spiraled completely out of control. The reality TV star had become addicted to crystal meth, which had taken its toll on her cover-girl looks. Her drug use had also led to her working in strip joints.
Desperate for Strauss to get clean, her loved ones therefore approached television’s Dr. Phil McGraw. He was seemingly moved by Strauss’ plight, and in 2012 an intervention was duly staged on his program Dr. Phil. There, the host told the audience and viewers that Strauss’ life had taken a dark turn since her Top Model days.
But after Dr. Phil had introduced Strauss on the show, she refused to walk onto the set and instead fled backstage. The doctor pursued her, though, and ended up conducting his interview with Strauss beside a dumpster. And during the conversation, the host urged Strauss to allow him to pay for her to enter a rehab facility so that she could get her life back on track.
In tears, Strauss initially appeared to be reluctant to accept the offer; she even asked Dr. Phil why he would help her. The psychologist replied, however, that it was just what he did. While holding out his hand, he then asked if they had a deal – and she shook it and agreed. And the decision to allow Dr. Phil to help her seemed to mark a turning point in Strauss’ life.
Indeed, although she said little about the years that followed her Dr. Phil appearance, it seemed that Strauss used some of that time to get her life on the straight and narrow. By 2016 she had fought her way back to sobriety and was leading a clean life in Austin, Texas, where she was also putting her own experiences to good use at a rehab center.
And in a 2016 interview, Strauss told TooFab that it had been “a miracle” that things had turned around. Even though she felt as though the Dr. Phil show had “exploited” her, she added, a lot of good had nevertheless come of her intervention. “I have inner conflict because I know that my story has helped so many people. And today that’s like the number one important thing in my life… to help other people, so I wouldn’t change that,” she explained.
“To be honest, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Strauss added to TooFab. “This journey is very unexpected. I’ve been sober for three years and three months now – not a drink, not a pill, not a joint, not a line, nothing.”
“It is really amazing. I mean, it’s a huge miracle to still be breathing after what I was up to,” Strauss continued. “I’m so grateful. And whatever path and twists and turns I had to take to get here, I don’t regret any of them.”
Strauss remained on her healthier path, too, celebrating five years of sobriety in 2018. To mark the milestone, she posted side-by-side pictures on Instagram showing her both on Dr. Phil and in the present day. “Today I have five years sober,” Strauss wrote alongside the images.
“Good God! I know a few things to be true: miracles are real, [and] recovery is possible for everyone no matter how far gone you think you are,” Strauss’ Instagram post added. “We are never too broken to be put back together. Service work feels better than the greatest high, [and] sobriety makes you weirder, not normal. And I’d be dead if it weren’t for all the love and forgiveness I’ve been showered with by my friends and family.”
Strauss also thanked “anyone that’s ever let [her] sponsor them” and expressed gratitude to her partner “for showing [her] what real love is like.” “Thank you to all my beautiful family (blood and extended),” she added. “Because of this gift I have no friends, only family.”
But, tragically, Strauss’ life was about to take another terrible turn. In October 2018 she was given some devastating news: a diagnosis of stage-four breast cancer. And in an emotional post to Facebook, the former model told her followers that there was no cure for her illness.
“I was gonna write some long thing, but some of you guys deserve to know,” Strauss explained on the social media site. “On October 2, I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It has aggressively spread throughout my body and is incurable.”
However, Strauss added, “Treatment… may prolong my life longer than the ‘few months’ doctors said I could make it. I don’t want to die. I need another one of those miracles that I got back in 2013.”
Then, a few days later, Strauss shared a video on Instagram that showed her having her hair shaved off, along with other people apparently going bald in solidarity. “My cancer can’t grow as fast as my LOVE,” she wrote alongside the footage. “Thankful for the masses of support. We are unstoppable.”
And on October 10, Strauss assured her followers that she planned to keep on going in her battle against the disease. “Thank you all,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “This outpouring of love is overwhelming to say the least.”
“I am doing my second round of chemo, and I’m not looking forward to it,” Strauss also admitted. “The misery is indescribable. But I’m fighting to live another day, and ain’t nothing gonna get in my way.”
Some of Strauss’ supporters teamed up, too, to establish a GoFundMe page in her name. There, they wrote, “Jael, one of the most compassionate, generous and kind-hearted beings in the universe, has been dealt a tough hand. Those of us who know her understand that she is a fighter, but this fight will be a long, rocky and definitely expensive one.”
“At the end of September, Jael became very sick and was diagnosed with aggressive stage IV rapidly progressive metastatic inflammatory breast cancer,” the GoFundMe message continued. “It has metastasized and spread beyond the breast tissue. She has just begun chemo, but we do not know how things will play out.”
“What we do know is that Jael is putting all of her energy and drive into fighting this insidious disease and can use as much support and love as possible,” the message added. The page also revealed that Strauss was “in tremendous pain.”
And Strauss reached out herself, asking for assistance and admitting that she was afraid. “My lovelies, I am currently living in a beautiful luxurious hotel in downtown Austin without a care in the world. Isn’t life grand?” she wrote on Instagram. “That is the complete opposite of my reality right now as I exist closer to death than I have ever been, and I am scared.”
“I really need your help. Donations, kind words of support and prayers are completely welcome and absolutely needed,” Strauss’ Instagram post stated. “I have stage four metastatic breast cancer, and there is NO cure. ‘NO CURE?’”
And over the two months that followed, Strauss shared updates about her health and her condition with her followers. One picture posted on Instagram showed her snuggling up to a huge rabbit and was captioned, “Animal therapy.” Another depicted her lying down after having treatment.
To accompany the snap of her resting, Strauss told her Instagram followers that the day before she’d had a port installed in her body as part of her chemotherapy program. “Used today,” she explained. “Felt like my skin got snapped into, strange feels.”
Then, in November 2018, Strauss reportedly made the decision not to have any more chemotherapy. Even so, the former model kept her fans updated as best she could; on November 22, for instance, she explained on Facebook that she was experiencing her “first night in hospice [care].” The post would be her last on the social media site.
In the poignant message, Strauss indicated that she had reached a new level of understanding about the nature of existence. “So many things I never knew about life,” she wrote. “Or death. So many things.” And the moving post ultimately drew more than 300 comments from the star’s supporters.
Sadly, Strauss’ brave fight came to an end on December 4, 2018, when it was reported that she had passed away at the age of just 34. Her death had come only two months after she had first announced that she had cancer.
According to TMZ, Strauss had lost consciousness some time before her life had ended, although she battled on for a few more days before eventually losing her fight. And, understandably, the reality star’s passing would trigger an outpouring of grief on social media.
One of Strauss’ followers wrote on Instagram, for example, that the ex-model had had “so much more to give.” “Rest in peace, wild flower,” read another comment. “Such a beautiful and unique soul.”
And Dr. Phil was among those to send condolences upon learning that Strauss had lost her fight. “We are deeply saddened to hear the news of Jael’s passing,” he wrote on Twitter. He added that he was sending prayers to Strauss’ loved ones.
Tyra Banks, too, paid tribute to the former contestant on social media. “Top Model has lost a beautiful soul,” she stated on Twitter. “We will all remember Jael and her fun-loving spirit.”
And Strauss’ friends and family would eventually issue a statement to TMZ regarding their loss, in which they revealed, “The one blessing was that we were able to show her how loved she was before she passed.” Summing up their feelings about Strauss, they concluded the statement by saying of the star, “She brought so much light to people.”