LONDON - Jade Goody, a dental assistant turned reality-TV star whose whirlwind journey from poverty to celebrity to tragedybecame a national soap opera and morality tale in Britain, has died.
The 27-year-old had cancer and died in her sleep early Sunday ather home in Essex, southeast England, her publicist Max Cliffordsaid.
Goody gained fame at 21 in 2002, when she joined the realitytelevision show "Big Brother," in which contestants live togetherfor weeks and are constantly filmed. Loud and brash, she became ahighly divisive star -- initially mocked as an ignorant slob, thencelebrated as a forthright everywoman by a hungry tabloid press.
It was a pattern of praise and condemnation that followed herfor the rest of her life. Goody became a national touchstone whosparked debate about race, class and celebrity in Britain.
For some, Goody was a survivor who had overcome a toughchildhood in a poor part of London.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Sunday that Goody used her fameto help others.
"She was a courageous woman both in life and death and thewhole country have admired her determination to provide a brightfuture for her children," Brown said in a statement.
"She will be remembered fondly by all who knew her and herfamily can be extremely proud of the work she has done to raiseawareness of cervical cancer which will benefit thousands of womenacross the U.K."
Though many praised Goody in recent months for the way in whichshe handled her illness, she was mocked in the press during herstint on "Big Brother" for her weight, her big mouth and herapparent lack of general knowledge -- she branded the English regionof East Anglia "East Angular," and asked whether it was abroad.
She didn't win the show, but she did become a celebrity, earningmillions through television and magazine appearances, anautobiography, a perfume and a series of exercise videos.
It was during a follow-up stint on a celebrity version of "BigBrother" in 2007 that Goody was labeled a racist bully for hertreatment of another contestant, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty.Goody bad-mouthed Shetty's cooking of Indian food, mocked heraccent and referred to her as "Shilpa Poppadom." While complaintsagainst the show skyrocketed, so did ratings.
Goody's treatment of Shetty sparked anger in India and Britain --even becoming the topic of debate during a House of Commonsquestion-and-answer session with then Prime Minister Tony Blair. Amajor sponsor suspended its advertising deal with "Celebrity BigBrother," and a chain of perfume shops pulled a Goody-endorsedfragrance, ironically named "Shh..."
After television viewers voted to evict Goody from the show,Goody -- herself of mixed race -- insisted she wasn't a racist. "Iargue like that with everybody. It wasn't just because of the colorof her skin that I was that aggressive," she said during aninterview on Britain's GMTV.
After the eviction, the Indian Tourism Office invited Goody totravel to the country. She did, visiting charity projects and lateragreeing to appear on an Indian version of the show.
"The people of India have only seen a small part of me and I'dlike to show them that there is more to me," Goody said. "I'm amother of two, a businesswoman. I can't be all that bad."
It was during filming of the show in the summer of 2008 thatGoody received a diagnosis of cervical cancer by telephone from adoctor in Britain. The camera captured the deeply personal moment,which was shown repeatedly on TV in Britain, though not in India.
The progress of her illness was chronicled in detail in thetabloid press and weekly magazines, to the unease of many.
"Goody isn't rich or famous because she won the lottery: she'srich and famous because we bought all those papers and magazinesand ghosted books with her on the cover, because we watched hertelevision series, because we cheered when she was good and booedwhen she was bad, because we sat around discussing her overlunch," wrote columnist India Knight in The Sunday Times. "Nowshe's dying, she's making us all feel bad so we want her to goaway, like a broken toy that's stopped being fun."
In February, a bald and frail Goody, married fiancee Jack Tweedin an elaborate event staged at an elegant countryside hoteloutside London. She reportedly sold the photos for more than $1million.
Goody defended being paid for interviews and photo shoots.
"People will say I'm doing this for money," she said. "Andthey're right, I am. But not to buy flash cars or big houses -- it'sfor my sons' future if I'm not here. I don't want my kids to havethe same miserable, drug-blighted, poverty-stricken childhood Idid."
Before her rise to fame, Goody worked for a period as a dentalnurse. She had an unhappy childhood in a poor south Londonneighborhood. Her father was a heroin addict who served jail timefor robbery and died in 2005, her mother a former crack addict wholost the use of an arm in a motorcycle accident.
While many empathized with Goody as she underwent surgery andchemotherapy in the public eye -- filming part of the experience foranother television series -- she still inspired vitriol in others. AWeb site was even set up, devoted to predicting when she would die.
In February 2009 Goody's publicist said the cancer had spread toher liver, bowel and groin.
Goody is survived by Tweed and her two sons Bobby and Freddie,with an ex-boyfriend, television presenter Jeff Brazier. She alsois survived by her mother, Jackiey Budden.
Budden told reporters Sunday: "Family and friends would likeprivacy at last."