Amber-Lee Friis, Miss Universe New Zealand Finalist, Dead at 23

Amber-Lee Friis, a model and Miss Universe New Zealand finalist, died last week her talent agency confirmed Monday. Friis was 23 years old. Miss Universe New Zealand CEO Nigel Godfrey called Friis a "force to be reckoned with" and an "incredibly positive force for good." She made headlines back in 2018 when she opened up about the bullying she faced due to her looks.

"It is with immense sadness we acknowledge the sudden passing of a beautiful and talented Wahine Amber-lee Friis," Friis' talent agency, The Talent Tree, confirmed on Facebook Monday. Friis was a finalist in the 2018 Miss Universe New Zealand competition. "Our sincere aroha and condolences to Amber-Lee's family and friends," the agency wrote, adding, "RIP beautiful lady."

New Zealand Police told USA Today the Auckland native died on Monday suddenly. No further details on her death have been reported. Police said the case was deferred to a coroner. Godfrey said Friis "left us far, far too soon."

Godfrey described Friis as a "feisty" woman who "definitely took no prisoners," but she was still a "beautiful soul and you 100% knew what you were getting." "She was genuine, honest and she had an energy few others possess, her heart was most definitely in the right place," Godfrey added on Facebook. "We liked and respected her and were very proud to call her a friend, long after the competition had finished. 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."

In 2018, Friis made international deadlines when she told NZ Stuff she was bullied by classmates growing up due to her "slanted eyes" and tan skin. She is half-Samoan and hoped her success at the beauty pageant could set a good example for young girls who grew up poor as she did. "I was like a lost sheep before I started writing down goals and started focusing on what I wanted to do," Friis said at the time. "I felt stuck and helpless. No one ever has to feel that way."

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Friis, who had tattoos and wore ear stretchers, said she never envisioned competing as a beauty queen. While growing up, she "had a negative outlook on everything" and saw her self as "being an angry, fat, old lady." When she turned 18, she decided to change her life by setting goals, working out, and saving money. She was later contacted by a Miss Universe New Zealand staffer about competing and was one of the final 20 competitors.

Friis continued to set a good example for others until her death. On May 16, she called attention to the rise of domestic violence cases during the coronavirus pandemic and offered to help others. "Rest in peace you Beautiful girl, I cherish every moment I spent with you till we see each other again," one friend wrote on her Facebook page.