Gayle King Remembers Cheslie Kryst’s ‘Sparkle,’ and Hopes to Bring Attention to ‘High-Functioning Depression.’
Gayle King, a veteran journalist and current host of CBS Mornings, is noted for her interviewing skills as well as the depth, duration, and quality of her friendships.
King has been asking herself a series of questions in the days following the murder of her mentee-turned-close friend Cheslie Kryst.
When we chat by phone a few days after Kryst’s death, which was ruled to be due to suicide, King says, «I truly can’t get over it.» «It’s haunting me.» I was familiar with her. It’s—I’m not sure how to process or wrap my head around what’s happened. «I’m sorry, but I don’t think so.»
Kryst was a woman who had it all, according to many who met her or admired her from afar. Rheeda Walker, a clinical psychologist and head of the University of Houston’s Culture, Risk, and Resilience Lab, believes anyone who may have made such an assumption need not feel guilty.
Walker and her colleagues study the risks, causes, and consequences of suicide, as well as Black adult mental health.
«Hopefully, Ms. King and others who knew her [Kryst] personally will be able to find some grace in their sadness,» Walker adds.
In the year 2019, King and Kryst meet for the first time. When COVID-19 was still a year away, King’s show held a sit-down interview with a trio of Black women who had just won big titles: Kaliegh Garris, Miss Teen USA 2019, Nia Franklin, Miss America 2019, and Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA 2019. (A fourth Black lady, South Africa’s Zozibini Tunzi, was also crowned Miss Universe 2019, but she was not included in the roundtable.)
The clean sweep of major pageant titles had significance in a society where Black beauty has been historically denigrated, where the existence of Black intelligence and poise has been first questioned, then seized.
The interview opened with King describing the women as «a trifecta of Black girl magic.» Her first question was to Kryst: Did you understand when you were crowned that you were part of something so historic?
Kryst answered, «I didn’t even think about it until we started seeing photos on Instagram.» She later cited the women’s victory as a sign of how much more work needs to be done beyond the stage.
«I believe that when Ursula Burns was no longer the CEO…at Xerox, there were no more Black female CEOs of Fortune 500 firms,» she remarked. «This momentous occasion ought to be commemorated. But it’s also a reminder that we have a lot of work ahead of us.»
Though all three women were there at the time, it was Kryst, a young lawyer from North Carolina, who struck up a conversation with her interviewer right away.
«They were all fantastic.» But Cheslie was the only one to whom I said, ‘Can I get your number?’ when the interview was complete. ‘I’d like to keep in touch with you,’ says King. «She just had a freakin’ gleam,» says the narrator.
Kryst was recruited to report for Extra in late 2019, adding a career as a journalist to her vast list of accomplishments. She summoned the guts to seek advice from King. Kryst had a notepad and a pen in hand when they met on Zoom to discuss television reporting, which was all the epidemic would allow at the time.
She was particularly interested in learning what she should do if her interviews did not go well. After all, it was King who famously pulled a shouting, chest-thumping R. Kelly back into an interview chair by repeating his given name.
The mentor-mentee relationship grew into friendship over time. Their topics ranged from Kryst’s co-writing project to the exact brand of glasses she wore when she wasn’t on camera—which King liked so much that she bought a matching pair—to Kryst’s ambitions to advance in her career and eventually meet someone, though King is quick to point out that singledom didn’t seem to bother her younger friend.
A planned 40-minute meal morphed into a two-hour gab session in December. It was their final discussion and their first in-person meeting since the pandemic began.
«I’ve been rummaging through my mind, trying to figure out what I’ve been missing.» «What did I miss?» According to King. «There were no indications.» That is the reality. It wasn’t like she couldn’t have been honest because it was just the two of us.»
When King received a text on Sunday alerting her of Kryst’s death, she initially mistook it for a mistake. But Kryst had vanished. Then King realized that Kryst’s death must have been caused by someone else; the surveillance tapes at the building should be investigated, King reasoned. Then she found out Kryst had committed suicide.
On Sunday night, King called Kryst’s mother, April Simpkins. According to King, Simpkins was dealing with more than just memories. She seemed to be trying to figure out why Kryst seemed to keep her problems to herself.
When TIME contacted Kryst’s family this week, they declined to comment. However, after a New York medical examiner confirmed Kryst’s death by suicide, Simpkins published a statement on Wednesday in which she expressed some of her thoughts: