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Cheryl Tiegs: The First “All-American Model”

Cheryl Tiegs: The First “All-American Model”

Cheryl Tiegs: The First "All-American Model"

All too often Cheryl Tiegs has been written off as “just another model,” when in fact there is so much more to her than that.

Every step of the way in her colorful and storied life she has flouted expectations and pushed boundaries. She has consistently challenged the notion of exactly what a fashion model can and cannot do.

Born in Minnesota in 1947, when she was a child her family relocated to California. That is where she got her first modeling job, while still in high school.

It was a swimsuit ad for the teen magazine Seventeen, and it kick-started her career in the modeling industry. That photoshoot was spotted by the staff at world-renowned Glamour magazine, and they hired Cheryl on the spot. She was just seventeen years old at the time.

Rise to Fame

There is often talk of individuals skyrocketing from obscurity into the spotlight, but for Cheryl Tiegs, it was almost literal. Her very first assignment for Glamour was a shoot out in the Virgin Islands. She and fellow model Ali McGraw jetted out there as soon as possible for what was to be her first magazine cover, the first of many.

As a side note, Ali McGraw would later find fame as an actress, winning a Golden Globe and snagging an Oscar nomination for Goodbye, Columbus, and Love Story.

But it was full steam ahead for Cheryl. In the next few years she became one of the most recognizable faces in the world, appearing on covers for Elle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and many others.

Cheryl Tiegs and Rene Russo photographed by Helmut Newton for Vogue US, December 1974.
Cheryl Tiegs and Rene Russo photographed by Helmut Newton for Vogue US, December 1974.

Her personal life also took an interesting turn, and by the dawn of the 1970s, Cheryl Tiegs was married to advertising executive Stan Dragoti. Fifteen years her senior, Dragoti was also an aspiring filmmaker, and in 1972 he directed the fascinatingly dark revisionist western Dirty Little Billy about the early days of Billy the Kid.

In a somewhat jarring tonal shift, he would then go on to direct the broad vampire-themed comedy Love At First Bite in 1979, and subsequently, the box office hit Mr. Mom starring a young Michael Keaton.

By the mid-’70s, Cheryl was riding high. She achieved a record as the first person to appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue twice, as well as three Time Magazine covers.

1978 was her most prosperous year yet, with her now-iconic “pink bikini” photoshoot that reinforced her image as one of the key faces of the decade. Cheryl Tiegs was also the focus of a Time cover story titled “All-American Model,” which is exactly what she was, a national icon.

The following year signed what was then the biggest modeling contract ever, a $1.5 million two-year deal with Cover Girl cosmetics. But her personal life took a hit when her marriage to Stan Dragoti broke down, and the couple divorced that same year.

All the same, Cheryl’s career remained on its upward trajectory. She had met activist and wildlife photographer Peter Hill Beard in 1978, and in ’79 the two of them traveled out to Kenya to film a documentary on the shattering impact of big game hunting on the African wildlife.

“Being with Peter in Africa was so magical and it changed my life,” she says. “I really saw nature, and earth, and everything through his eyes… Those were by far the most magical days of my life.”


The finished product, “Africa: End of the Game,” went on to win an Emmy Award. It also marked the beginning of Cheryl’s high-profile career as an activist and conservationist.

Cheryl Tiegs and Beard married in 1981, but the union proved short-lived. Their divorce came two years later, in 1983.

Cheryl Tiegs Collection

It was around this time that Cheryl launched her trademark “Cheryl Tiegs Collection” for Sears, a bold segue into the retail trade which had never been undertaken by a supermodel previously.

The move paid off, however, and The Cheryl Tiegs Collection had net sales of approximately $1 billion by the end of the decade.

Photo of Cheryl Tiegs for the cover of US Magazine (United States) November 1977.
Photo of Cheryl Tiegs for the cover of US Magazine (United States) November 1977.

But as she continued to gain both money and fame, Cheryl upped her philanthropic ventures too. She would serve on the board of the Earth Conservation Corps, undertaking an Arctic expedition as a publicity stunt to raise awareness of global warming.

She has also acted as spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, C.O.A.C.H. For Kids and various others.

By the beginning of the 1990s, Cheryl Tiegs was still modeling but had also established herself as a successful businesswoman in her own right. Her name still carried with it a level of prestige and glamour, but her work as a designer and all-round fashionista continued to pay off when she launched her QVC-exclusive sportswear range in 1995.

A third marriage to Anthony Peck, son of famous movie star Gregory Peck (and an aspiring actor himself) ended in divorce, but not before Cheryl had given birth to a baby boy, Zackary Peck. And

In 1998 she married mindfulness and meditation specialist Rod Stryker. Though Cheryl’s fourth marriage only lasted until 2001, she had two more children with him: twin boys born via surrogate, Jaden and Theo Stryker.

Cheryl Tiegs Today

With the dawn of the 21st century, Cheryl remained a key media presence. Around this time she branched into her somewhat eclectic acting career, with minor parts in Vincent Gallo’s notorious indie movie The Brown Bunny, as well as the cult comedy, Walk Hard with John C. Reilly.

On the small screen, she has had a recurring role on the hit animated show Family Guy playing herself. If that’s not the mark of a true icon, then what is?

Cheryl Tiegs on her modeling career, her body image, and her definition of beauty.

Notably, she has also hosted her own travel show, Pathfinders: Exotic Journeys, as well as serving as a judge on ABC’s True Beauty, an unusual and short-lived reality show where the aim of the game was to showcase the contestants’ “inner beauty.”

Though Cheryl Tiegs is a worldwide icon, she has also demonstrated profound compassion. She leaves behind her a significant legacy of altruism, and remains an outspoken activist to this day.

So while it’s easy to pigeonhole Cheryl Tiegs when we see her listed in People Magazine‘s “50 Most Beautiful People” or Men’s Health Magazine‘s “100 Hottest Women of All Time,” it is important to remember there is more to her than meets the eye.

Not only style, but substance too.

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