How Did Tatjana Patitz Die? Supermodel Who Was Vogue Cover Girl and Featured in George Michael's Freedom Dies of Breast Cancer as Fashion Industry Mourns Loss

Patitz was still modeling in 2019 when she appeared on the Etro runway during Milan Fashion Week and was featured in a Vogue photo shoot alongside her son Jonah Johnson.

Supermodel Tatjana Patitz has died aged 56 after battling breast cancer, according to her agent. Patitz, one of the original supermodels who ruled the ramp in the 1980s and 1990s, passed away in Santa Barbara, California, on Wednesday morning. The cause of death wasn't initially revealed.

However, hours after news of her death broke online, Patitz's agent, Corrine Nichols confirmed that she died of breast cancer. She is survived by her 19-year-old son, Jonah. Hamburg-born Patitz shot to fame after appearing alongside supermodels Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Cindy Crawford on the cover of British Vogue's January 1990 issue. Since then, there has been no looking back for Patitz.

Gone Too Soon

Tatjana Patitz
Tatjana Patitz Twitter

It is not known how long Patitz had been battling breast cancer. She was leading a low-profile life for quite some time in California. The Vogue cover that made Patitiz a household name went on to rank among the top 10 British Vogue covers of all time, according to Edward Enninful.

Patitz also made the US Vogue cover in the same month as the famous Peter Lindbergh group photograph.

It was a turning point for minimalist 90s fashion, captured by Peter Lindbergh in black and white. For the "supermodels," however, the photo served as a coronation, elevating them to the status of undisputed cultural icons for the women themselves.

Tatjana Patitz
Tatjana Patitz Twitter

George Michael was drawn to this cover, and he invited them to lip sync in his iconic Freedom! '90 music video.

The German-born model's strong-boned beauty, statuesque figure, and arch grace made her a favorite at Chanel and Versace, for whom she appeared in advertisements and on catwalks. She chose to live in California, far from the glamorous party scene, and kept a low profile.

According to Vogue, Patitiz, who is famed for her 40-year career, was "the quietest and possibly the most intense of the original supermodels."

Tatjana Patitz
The famous 1990 Vogue cover that featured Tatjana Patitz alongside the likes of Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Cindy Crawford Twitter

"Tatjana was always the European symbol of chic, like Romy Schneider-meets-Monica Vitti," Anna Wintour, the chief content officer of Condé Nast and global editorial director of Vogue, said in the magazine's announcement of the model's passing.

Patitz was still modeling in 2019 when she appeared on the Etro runway during Milan Fashion Week and was featured in a Vogue photo shoot alongside her son Jonah Johnson.

Tributes Pour In

Patitz, who was born in Hamburg to an Estonian mother and a German father, relocated to the southern Swedish town of Skanör with her family. She entered an elite model competition in Stockholm in 1983 and finished third despite already being a skilled horse rider. A trip to Paris and a temporary job were the rewards.

Tatjana Patitz
Tatjana Patitz Twitter

However, she didn't taste success overnight. "A star was not quickly born. Tatjana found no work for a year," a Vogue profile in 1988 mentions.

Her career would change after meeting Lindbergh. The German photographer, known for his fondness for a "natural" style and opposition to image processing, first captured Patitz for Vogue in 1988's "White Shirts: Six Supermodels, Malibu" before using her for the renowned 1990 cover.

Patitz would continue to maintain enduring professional connections with Lindbergh, Herb Ritts, and Patrick Demarchelier.

Although Linda Evangelista stated her cohorts wouldn't wake up for less than $10,000 every day in 1990, Patitz did not want to live in New York or Paris and instead chose to own a ranch on the west coast, despite coming of age with some of the most prominent models in the world.

She made a brief attempt at acting and had an appearance in Sean Connery's movie Rising Sun. She developed an interest in environmental and animal welfare concerns as well, and she was one of the models in Peta's well-known "We'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign.

Tatjana Patitz
Tatjana Patitz Twitter

Leading the tributes, fellow model Elaine Irwin posted a picture of their joint Paris Vogue cover and said: "Forever treasured Tatjana. With love to Tatjana Patitz and family."

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Tatjana Patitz, a longtime friend of Peter's," the Peter Lindbergh Foundation tweeted Wednesday. "We would like to salute Tatjana's kindness, inner beauty, and outstanding intelligence. Our thoughts go to her loved ones and particularly [her son] Jonah. She will be immensely missed."

"Rest in peace dear Tatjana," said Yasmeen Ghauri under a photo of her with Patitz, Naomi, and Karen Alexander.

"We didn't know each other well but your presence always struck me. Your authenticity, grace, kindness and inner strength shone through. You will be missed."

Other industry cohorts Naomi Campbell and Helena Christensen reacted quickly to the message, with Naomi using an emoji for a wounded heart and Helena calling her a "beautiful spite."

She co-starred with the same group of models from the notorious British Vogue cover in the 1990 music video "Freedom!" by George Michael. Michael was one of Patitz's "first teenage crushes," she admitted to The New York Times in 2016, so she was awestruck when she first met him.

Although they collaborated on a few projects, she never actually met him because she flew in and out of the country for her part of the music video.

"An angel has left us, Tatjana Patitz ...hearing about your passing is the saddest news I could have imagined...I miss your dearly RIP," wrote Eva Herzigova.

"I was in my own zone. I had to kind of slide up and down the wall for part of the day. The feel of the set was so run-down, this big, loft kind of vibe," wrote Cindy Crawford.

"There was another setup with me laying on a chaise lounge with a black smoking jacket. I think I may have had a bustier on. And I was smoking, even. People still smoked in videos then and even in films."

Meanwhile, the Herb Ritts Foundation, established in honor of the revered late photographer Herb Ritts, posted condolences along with a number of pictures Ritts took of Patitz on Instagram. There was a quote from Ritts on Patitz in the piece.

"The Herb Ritts Foundation is deeply saddened by the news of Tatjana's passing," the organization wrote in the caption. "Our thoughts go to her loved ones and particularly her son Jonah."

She welcomed a child named Jonah with her six-year husband Jason Johnson in November 2004. She calls Jonah her "source of happiness."

She also appeared in music videos for Duran Duran and Nick Kamen, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she was a regular on MTV.

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