NEWPORT BEACH — Sitting on an oversized plush chair in baseball legend Chuck Finley's Newport Beach home, actress Tawny Kitaen seems to be in a much different place than she was eight years ago. A soccer goal is visible in the backyard, and her daughter's art covers the refrigerator in the family home.
Her adopted dog, Woody, nuzzles Kitaen as she talks about a new off-camera passion: helping others.
A volunteer at Kathy's House, a shelter for at-risk women in San Juan Capistrano, and a member of the board of directors at Testimony Life Resources, an alternative counseling center, Kitaen appears to be a far cry from her role as the eccentric star of "The Surreal Life," or the woman battling a dependency on prescription pills on "Celebrity Rehab."
For Kitaen, the last eight years have not been easy. Originally, the San Diego native, whose real first name is Julie, achieved fame for her presence in the 1980s heavy metal scene. Known as the iconic, cart-wheeling redhead in Whitesnake's 1987 video "Here I Go Again," Kitaen later became the wife of front man David Coverdale and appeared in films such as "Bachelor Party" alongside Tom Hanks and on the TV show "The New WKRP in Cincinnati."
After their divorce, she graced the pages of People magazine for moving on and trading vows with Finley, arguably one of the most celebrated Angels pitchers in team history.
However, on April 4, 2002, Kitaen ended up in the news for much different reasons.
The Daily Pilot reported that Newport Beach police had arrested her for allegedly attacking her husband in their SUV a few blocks from their home. Finley had cuts, bruises and scratches to his hands and face. Newport Beach Police Sgt. Steve Shulman said the incident occurred in the vehicle but the 911 hang-up call came from the couple's Newport Coast home.
Kitaen pleaded not guilty to the charges of domestic violence, and the case was dismissed in 2003 after she attended court-mandated counseling. When she and Finley divorced, she released a statement saying she was being treated for a dependency on prescription drugs and vowed to become "the healthiest and the best mother possible" to her two daughters.
Today, Kitaen maintains that the media misrepresented elements of that story.
"It got blown out of proportion … completely blown out of proportion," Kitaen says. "If Chuck was sitting right here he would tell you the exact same thing."
In a phone interview, Finley says that his ex-wife has moved forward with her life and has become a wonderful mother.
"Tawny has had an amazing journey since the first time I met her," Finley says. "And though there have been bumps in the road, which we all experience, I could not be more proud of where and who she is today.
"I witness daily what a tremendous mother she is to our daughters. I know how she embraces each and every day with optimism. She's at a point where she has found balance in her life, and has been for years really. We talk almost every day about the girls, about what each of us are doing, and how she is looking forward with enthusiasm, to whatever tomorrow might bring, both personally and professionally."
Kitaen denies what is perhaps the best-known element of what happened that night: that she hit Finley with a shoe.
"I don't know where this shoe came from," she says.
After a verbal argument in a Land Rover, Kitaen says she asked Finley to stop the car and admits that she did pull his ear. As for the arrest, Kitaen says that she is the one who called 911, an act she now regrets.
"The cops came. I looked at Chuck, and I looked at the police, and I thought, 'Oh my God, our lives are going to completely change right here,'" she says. "I will never call 911 again."
The incident played out the most publicly right where she lived, in Newport Beach.
"I felt like a leper in this city," she recalls. "It was just a horrible, horrible time for me. I didn't want to leave my house."
However, when she did step out, Kitaen was surprised by the reaction.