Tiffani Thiessen Reflects on Her Grief After Losing 3 Iconic Co-Stars: ‘Life Is Extremely Precious’

Tiffani Thiessen sat down with The Healthy @Reader's Digest about how she practices wellness at home, and how losing friends Luke Perry, Dustin Diamond, and Willie Garson in the past three years has changed her.

Even if you’ve been a fan of her work in recent years, the image of Tiffani Thiessen has a way of transporting many of us back to the days of our youth when we loved her as Kelly Kapowski, or as Valeri Malone, the resident bad girl on Beverly Hills, 90210. For her as for all of us, the years have gone fast—today, Thiessen is a wife, mom, gardener, chef, author, chicken-keeper (yes!), and more.

Not unlike most women, she wears a lot of hats. So how does she do it all?

In a word: balance. In fact Thiessen, 48, tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest that she recently had Balance tattooed on her wrist to keep that value front and center. “I strive for balance every day, and some days are more balanced than others,” she shared in an interview with The Healthy last week.

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Balance is especially key when you commit yourself to causes even beyond work and family. Here Thiessen discusses her newest project, a public health initiative with the National Meningitis Association (NMA), called “It’s About Time: Help Stop the Clock on Meningitis.” As so many of Thiessen’s followers are now parents just like her (she’s mom to daughter Harper, 11, and son Holt, who’s six), Thiessen was passionate about joining the campaign to educate families about the importance of protecting their pre-teens and teens against meningococcal meningitis: a potentially terminal inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.

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Caring for Her Family

Harper sitting on Tiffani's lapcourtesy Tiffani Thiessen

Thiessen told us she was inspired to join the campaign when she met NMA President Leslie Maier, whose son died at age 17 within 24 hours of contracting meningitis. “It hits close to home,” Thiessen said of Maier’s story.

Added Maier: “The vaccine probably would have saved his life.”

Current guidelines recommend that all 11- and 12-year-olds get a MenACWY vaccine, with a booster dose at 16. Teens and young adults (16 through 23 years old) also may get a MenB vaccine. Thiessen made sure Harper had her first dose of the vaccine at age 11 and will receive the second before she turns 16.

Why is the meningitis vaccine a worthwhile consideration for families? Meningitis spreads via coughing, sneezing, sharing food, and mouth-to-mouth contact—so, Thiessen said, “These are important years because it’s the time where they share food and soft drinks…and the one thing that I know is coming my way is the kissing.”

Here are 40 things your doctor wishes you knew about vaccines.

Balance at Home

Making sure their kiddos are up to date on their preventive vaccines is just one way Thiessen and her husband, artist and actor Brady Smith, prioritize their children’s wellbeing. Also? “We really limit electronics,” she said, and her kiddos aren’t on social media. “We like our kids outside with their bare feet on the grass, connecting with the earth.”

In fact, in 2019, the couple published a kid’s book called You’re Missing It!, which highlights the precious moments families miss out on together when they can’t put down their phones.

Her love of mindful living also led Thiessen to publish a cookbook, Pull Up a Chair: Recipes from My Family to Yours, and from 2015 to 2017, she hosted the Cooking Channel series Dinner at Tiffani’s. Thiessen said when it comes to what she feeds her family, once again, it’s all about balance. “I don’t deprive them of sugar or chocolate every now and then—and during the week, I am strict about [making sure they eat] fruits and vegetables.”

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Thiessen was raised in a family that grew their own food and raised chickens—and she carries on these traditions today. “I am growing massive amounts of food,” she said. “We have stone fruit trees, citrus trees, and I grow lettuces, beets, carrots, tomatoes, and artichokes. Having a child see where food comes from has given my kids an excitement for what they eat.”

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While Covid-19 and the isolation of lockdowns wasn’t a cake walk, Thiessen tries to stay glass-half-full. “Doing school online with my little one was definitely challenging, but we got to spend all of this extra time together, and I never forget that. The hardest thing was all of the cooking,” she said, which wasn’t all that bad: “I love to cook.”

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On Losing Beloved Former Co-stars

That grateful spirit has helped her cope with some painful losses in recent years, including co-stars Dustin Diamond, who played Screech on Saved by the Bell, Luke Perry, and her close friend, actor Willie Garson, with whom she starred with in USA’s White Collar. “It’s hard to put it into words,” she said. “With Luke and Dustin, their death was sudden, but with Willie, I went through the process of his illness with him.” (Garson died of pancreatic cancer at age 57 in 2021. Perry died in 2019 from complications following a massive stroke at the age of 52, and Diamond passed away in 2021 at age 44 after a short battle with lung cancer.)

Thiessen also recently lost her 96-year-old grandmother, and reflected on these collective experiences. “I had two different sides of losing somebody: one woman who led an amazing life and who was very much ready to go, and then someone who wasn’t ready and should have been here longer,” she said.

“It always brings it back home to how fortunate I feel. Life is extremely precious.”

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Denise Mann, MS
Denise Mann is a freelance health writer whose articles regularly appear in WebMD, HealthDay, and other consumer health portals. She has received numerous awards, including the Arthritis Foundation's Northeast Region Prize for Online Journalism; the Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award; the Journalistic Achievement Award from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; National Newsmaker of the Year by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the Gold Award for Best Service Journalism from the Magazine Association of the Southeast; a Bronze Award from The American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (for a cover story she wrote in Plastic Surgery Practice magazine); and an honorable mention in the International Osteoporosis Foundation Journalism Awards. She was part of the writing team awarded a 2008 Sigma Delta Chi award for her part in a WebMD series on autism. Her first foray into health reporting was with the Medical Tribune News Service, where her articles appeared regularly in such newspapers as the Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News, and Los Angeles Daily News. Mann received a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. She lives in New York with her husband David; sons Teddy and Evan; and their miniature schnauzer, Perri Winkle Blu.