It's been 32 years since Vanessa Williams appeared onstage at the Miss America pageant, when she was the first African American woman crowned in 1983. But her run was cut short and steeped in controversy and she eventually resigned her title to first runner-up Suzette Charles. Finally on Sunday night, the former Miss America 1984 finally appeared at the pageant again, but before she began judging this year's contestants, something very important happened. Sam Haskell III, the CEO of the Miss America organization issued a formal apology to Williams on behalf of the company, three decades later. But what happened in the first place? Why did Williams have to give up her title? It all started because of some scandalous photos from Williams' early years.
As Entertainment Tonight reported, before Williams was crowned as Miss America, she took a few nude photos that resurfaced after she got the title. Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione eventually published the photos and received a profit of $14 million, according to PBS. After the Penthouse issue containing her photos was published, Williams told ET that she was given 72 hours to resign from her position, and she believed her reputation was ruined by the events.
Williams tried to sue Penthouse for using the photos of her, as reported by People, but five years after the mess and one year after filing the lawsuit, she decided to drop it and move on. "It was a no-win situation. Besides, I didn't feel like reliving all this stuff again, five years down the line. I just wanted to get on with my life. So many people have gotten burned by those people that I think they'll eventually get it in the end and die a slow, painful death," she told the magazine in 1989. Guccione claimed that he had a signed release to publish Williams' photos, and according to People said in 1984 of the controversy, "You pose for a photographer, you sign a model release, you've consummated a business contract."
Of course there was no way that this was going to get Vanessa Williams. She's obviously became a huge success onstage and onscreen with Tony, Grammy, Emmy, and Screen Actors Guild nominations and winning many other awards. When Williams was asked to return to the stage on Sunday night, she not only received her formal apology, but Haskell also stated to Williams and the world that she would once again be reinstated as Miss America 1984. It's absolutely the right move, and it's about time. Watch the apology below.