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Memorable 'Project Runway' contestant Wendy Pepper dies at 53

Pepper, who took third place on Season 1 of "Project Runway," passed away peacefully on November 12.
/ Source: TODAY

No matter how good a reality show's premise is, it won't take without the right cast of characters. Wendy Pepper, who came in third on the original season of "Project Runway," was part of why audiences fell in love with the show back in 2004-2005 (and continue to tune in today).

Sadly, Pepper — whose real name was Anne Eustis Pepper Stewart — passed away on November 12, according to a Washington Post obituary published on Friday. While the cause of her death was not revealed, the obituary stated that Pepper died peacefully surrounded by her family. She was 53.

Pepper was sometimes called the show's "villain," but she had a loyal fan base and was an undeniable talent.Mark Mainz / Getty Images

“We are saddened to hear of the passing of another member of the Project Runway family, designer Wendy Pepper, this year," said a statement TODAY received from Lifetime, which currently airs the series. "Wendy was one of the original designers that sent creations down the catwalk, paving the way for other designers to come. We wish her family and friends peace during this difficult time.”

(The Lifetime statement alludes to the recent death of "Project Runway" designer Mychael Knight, who passed away last month at the age of 39.)

Former "Project Runway" executive producer Andy Cohen called Pepper "one of the first of many great characters" to appear on the show and "a big reason for the first season’s success."

Pepper later returned to the show in 2012 for its second all-star season.