The Death of Kailia Posey and the Heartbreaking Side of Young Fame

Toddlers and Tiaras star Kailia Posey's death by suicide at only 16 years old is a sad reminder that outward success is no assurance that everything's fine on the inside.

By Natalie Finn May 10, 2022 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Toddlers & Tiaras Star Kailia Posey's Cause of Death Revealed

Celebrities opening up about their mental health struggles has undoubtedly been one of the more positive developments in our public discourse in recent years, the reassurance that a person isn't alone at any given moment sometimes making all the difference.

Yet still too often, those who've spent time in the spotlight have also ended up becoming reminders that, no matter the resources at hand or how big and loving the support system, a person's pain can be unknowable until it's too late.

The family of former Toddlers and Tiaras star Kailia Posey were left reeling after the 16-year-old died by suicide on May 2, sharing in a statement two days later, "Although she was an accomplished teenager with a bright future ahead of her, unfortunately in one impetuous moment, she made the rash decision to end her earthly life."

They noted that, while her name recognition came mainly from reality TV, Posey won "countless crowns & trophies after competing on the pageant circuit her entire life," and, among the things she was seemingly looking forward to, she had earned a spot on her high school's cheerleading squad for the fall.

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"Can't even believe this has happened," actor and magician Kadan Bart Rockett, who'd known Posey since they were little kids, commented on her last Instagram post from April 23, a photo of herself wearing a red dress and smiling brightly that she captioned, "None of your concern :)."

And on his own Instagram page, Rockett wrote in tribute, "Her smile lit up every room she entered & her sweet spirit will live on forever in our hearts. I cannot began to comprehend WHY. If only I could have talked to you one more time."


Posey's final TikTok video for her 14,600 followers was posted on April 30: The prom-bound teen dancing with a pal before they headed out in their sparkling gowns.

"this was only posted 2 days ago too.. sad how life can end that quick," a commenter wrote under the video after news broke of Posey's death, one of countless tributes that piled up atop the compliments that had been left in that space when she was alive.

Most Twitter users these days may have been unaware that the "Grinning Girl" meme that remains in constant circulation was captured during Posey's precocious turn on a 2011 episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, the 5-year-old flashing a knowing smile for the ages during an interview segment. 


The TLC series, which ran from 2009 to 2013 and spawned spin-offs such as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Little Miss Atlanta, was a big hit but also fueled debate over how young is too young to put little kids on the pageant circuit—and how grown-up, so to speak, the children should look while competing.

But being meme'd for posterity aside, Posey led a pretty private life as she quietly built her resume, making her feature acting debut in the 2019 Netflix horror film Eli and winning the Miss Teen Lynden WA USA crown just last year. She was listed as a contestant for the 2022 Miss Washington Teen USA pageant scheduled for November, and her bio on the organization's website still reads (as of publishing time) that she "loves to entertain."

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Noting that the Dean's List student and trained Cirque du Soleil-style contortionist planned to study aviation in college and become a commercial pilot, the bio concludes, "Kailia hopes to show members of her generation that they can positively impact the world if they are patient and work hard."

And that was her plan, until it wasn't anymore.

A Washington State Patrol spokesman confirmed to E! News last week that they were called out to Birch Bay State Park at 1:26 p.m. on May 2 to respond to the death of a 16-year-old. (Authorities never released her name publicly because she was a minor.)


The Whatcom County Medical Examiner confirmed May 9 that the manner of death was suicide. Again, the office didn't include her name in a statement posted to its website, but E! News confirmed they were referring to Posey. Further details from an autopsy were not made public. 

But only so many questions in this case will have answers.

In their May 4 statement, her family noted that they had started a fund in her honor through the Whatcom Community Foundation in hopes that her "departure from this Earth will not be in vain and that other lives can be saved."

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Because while what went through Posey's head when she set out to end her life will remain unknowable, reminding everyone that they can and should reach out for help at any time is essential.

Very famous folks ranging from Lady GagaSelena Gomez and Sophie Turner to members of Britain's royal family and Bachelor Nation have helped destigmatize mental health talk by sharing details from their own experiences. And on its good days, social media has provided a useful forum for sharing personal stories and information.

In sum, the fact that there's a wide, ongoing conversation happening is good news.

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But if it also feels as if the 24/7 news cycle has been churning out more heartbreaking stories than ever—be it deaths by suicide or accident, lives cut short by illness, or life-ruining run-ins with the law—that's partly because the definition of celebrity has expanded so much. People who've had even a modicum of fame—be it through reality TV, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok or from more traditional channels (though maybe reality TV is traditional now?)—are covered as much as (and sometimes way more than) Oscar winners and chart-topping singers. 

Basically, the sheer number of names on our radar these days has inevitably resulted in an uptick of upsetting headlines amid the more upbeat viral stories emanating from the worlds of online stardom.

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But as far as "traditional" celebrity goes, lofty stories of the good life that comes with fame and fortune have always been tempered by tales of abject tragedy.


The steepest downfalls—Marilyn Monroe's barbiturate overdose when she was 36 in 1962, River Phoenix's shocking accidental overdose at 23 outside West Hollywood's Viper Room in 1993, Kurt Cobain turning a gun on himself in 1994 when he was 27 or Amy Winehouse dying of accidental alcohol poisoning at 27 in 2011, to name a few—have become so embedded in our collective cultural brain that they almost read like fiction. Because how do such bright lights just turn off in the blink of an eye?

However, there were bright flashing warning signs that those four particular legends—all of whom battled demons in and out of the spotlight—were in trouble.

But just as it's become pretty clear over the past century that money doesn't buy happiness and fame definitely doesn't, we at least know now—due in no small part to the wide variety of people who've found themselves under the bigger-than-ever umbrella of celebrity—that mental health crises do not necessarily work that way. The signs, if there are any, may be easily missed. And in turn, the conversation must never stop.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit for additional resources.