There was a side of Annalise Braakensiek that her legion of online fans never really knew. The former model turned actress would swap her bikini for high-vis workwear and her beloved Bondi Beach for the Aussie Outback.
As an ambassador for the mental health charity R U OK, Annalise travelled to remote areas of Australia encouraging Fly In Fly Out workers to check on their mates.
But while Annalise was watching out for others, her own life was unravelling.
She was caught in the celebrity fast lane, unable to resist its temptations and pressures.
From a young age, Annalise shone bright. “She was very shiny,” Annalise’s mum Vera tells Sunday Night’s Angela Cox. “She was a very big personality, very good at her artwork and music and everything. She was very full of life.”
Annalise made the most of her beauty and bubbly personality, becoming an international cover girl and red carpet regular. By the time she was 30, she seemed to have it all – a glamorous career, a rich and handsome husband, even a regular role in the cult TV comedy, Fat Pizza.
The show’s creator and friend of Annalise for seven years, Paul Fenech, remembers her fondly. “Her best quality was that she was a really sweet and loving person. You’d sort of go, ‘Wow, beautiful, amazing looking person,’ but then you’d chat to her and you would kind of forget that she was all that because she was so down to earth.”
Fellow model and actor Ayesha Rose met Annalise at the height of her fame. “I can’t forget the first time I met Annalise,” she remembers. “She was just so warm and accepting and just made me feel special. I think that was a good feeling, and that’s why a lot of people were drawn to her – because she made them feel really special.”
By then, Annalise had reinvented herself as a social media influencer, with more than two million followers online. Ayesha says Annalise became increasingly obsessed with projecting a picture-perfect life. “She put a lot of pressure on herself physically, she worked out so much. I did see her stress a lot about the angle of the picture of her hair, or it was a lot of stress for something that didn’t really matter. She looked great anyway.”
On social media, Annalise appeared to be living the dream, but her mother Vera knew that her obsessive quest for perfection was taking a heavy mental toll. “I never looked at her Instagram. I never looked at her Facebook, because it upset me,” she explains. “It wasn’t true – she’d put a post on Instagram, [and] she’d ring me and say, ‘I can’t breathe. I’m so depressed.’”
To escape the depression, Annalise began to flirt with drugs – a quick fix readily available among the wealthy Eastern Suburbs set. “This is an addictive lifestyle,” Ayesha says. “It’s live for the weekend, live for the party, live for the moment, where you feel good for a second.”
Vera saw Annalise’s life crumbling. “I’d ring her every day and often she wouldn’t answer the phone and wouldn’t send a message. I nearly went nuts there for quite a while, and it’s the hardest thing in the world.”
Annalise’s life was falling apart. Her glory days as a world-famous model were behind her. After 17 years, her marriage had ended. Yet few realised how much she was struggling. Her perfect life was an illusion – for Annalise, and sadly for many of her friends as well.
“A friend of hers suicided not long ago,” Vera reveals, “She said, ‘That’s my fifth friend.’ I didn’t really understand the environment there. I didn’t understand the partying and nonsense.”
Annalise died alone in her Potts Point Apartment on the 2nd of January this year.
Hearing the news was heartbreaking to Vera. “I screamed like I’ve never screamed in my life, and I felt like my entire life force was leaving me. It’s just not something anybody should have to experience.”
Annalise’s death was originally reported as a suicide, but those closest to her aren’t so sure.
“I don’t believe Annalise wanted to die,” Vera explains. “I believe that she went out New Year’s Eve and she partied and partied, and she made a fatal mistake in what she ingested. That’s what I think.”
Ayesha agrees. “I don’t think her death had anything to do with her depression. I think it was just an accident.”
Reporter: Angela Cox
Producers: Simon Heath
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R U OK is a suicide prevention charity who inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life. For more information, visit www.ruok.org.au.