Charlbi Dean death: how did model and Triangle of Sadness actress die, what is bacterial sepsis, cast tributes

Dean had most recently starred in the critically acclaimed dark comedy Triangle of Sadness alongside Harris Dickinson and Woody Harrelson

The cause of South African actress and model Charlbi Dean‘s death has been confirmed by the office of New York City’s Chief Medical Examiner.

The ruling was made on Wednesday (21 December), four months after the 32-year-old passed away on 29 August.

Dean, who most recently starred in the critically acclaimed Triangle of Sadness alongside Woody Harrelson is also known for her role in CW’s superhero drama Black Lightning. The actress was due to make her international debut, following her starring role in Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning film.

Her death was confirmed by her representative who said the actress had suffered a ‘sudden illness’, with tributes pouring in from colleagues and critics alike who have described the actress as a “true talent”.

Who was Charlbi Dean?

Dean, who was originally from South Africa, was a model and rising star in film. She started modelling at the age of 12, and made her acting debut in the 2010 South African film Spud. As well as being known for her role in Triangle of Sadness, Dean played the recurring character Syonide in season one and two of CW’s superhero drama Black Lightning.

The 32-year-old was engaged to Luke Volker, with the couple making the news official on Instagram in February 2022.

Actress Charlbi Dean has died at the age of 32 (Pic: Getty Images)

How did she die?

Dean’s representative confirmed the actress and model had passed away from an “unexpected, sudden illness” in August, with the actress dying in hospital in New York City.

On Wednesday, People reported that a spokesperson for the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner confirmed the actress had died of bacterial sepsis. They stated that the sepsis “was a complication from asplenia (the absence of a spleen)” due to “remote blunt trauma to her torso”.

After her death, her brother Alex Jacobs told Rolling Stone that she had been in a “very, very bad car accident” around 2009, which had led to her spleen being removed. Jacobs explained that his sister had been experiencing “minor” symptoms and had attended accident and emergency with her fiancé, Volker.

Jacobs said: “This happened literally within the span of a day: getting a headache, going to sleep, waking up her boyfriend and saying please take me to the hospital.”

Dean’s death has been ruled as an accident, with her sepsis being caused by a Capnocytophaga infection.

What is bacterial sepsis?

Dean died from bacterial sepsis that was caused by a Capnocytophaga infection. According to the CDC, Capnocytophaga is a bacteria commonly found in the mouths of “people, dogs, and cats” which can sometimes cause “opportunistic infections”in those with a weakened immune system.

Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection according to the NHS it can be hard to spot and occurs when your immune system overreacts to an infection, leading to damage of your own tissue and organs.

Who did she play in Triangle of Sadness?

Dean was due to mark her international debut in the satirical dark comedy Triangle of Sadness. The first English-language film from Swedish director Ruben Östlund, it won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

The actress played the role of Yaya, a privileged social media influencer alongside Harris Dickinson, who played her boyfriend Carl and Woody Harrelson who plays the role of The Captain. The plot of the satirical comedy is described on IMDb as: “A cruise for the super-rich sinks thus leaving survivors, including a fashion model celebrity couple, trapped on an island.”

Reflecting on her role at Cannes Dean told the Associated Press: “For me, I’m like, I’ve already won. I’m already at Cannes with the movie. That’s so unbelievable. Anything is just a cherry on top at this point for me, you know?”

Swedish film director Ruben Ostlund, South African model and actress Charlbi Dean and US actor Woody Harrelson attend a press conference for the film “Triangle of Sadness” (Pic: AFP via Getty Images)

Who has paid tribute to her?

Triangle of Sadness director Ruben Östlund gave an emotional tribute to the actress who starred in his award-winning film on Instagram.

In his caption, Östlund said: “Charlbi’s sudden passing is a shock and a tragedy.” Adding: “It is an honor to have gotten to know and work with her.

“Charlbi had a care and sensitivity that lifted her colleagues and the entire film crew. The thought that she will not be by our side in the future makes me very sad. At this difficult time, my thoughts go out to her loved ones, her family and her fiance Luke.”

Dean’s fiance Volker has also paid tribute to her in a video on Instagram, which he captioned: “Nothing I write here will ever feel good enough. She’s the best person I’ve ever met and I was the luckiest guy in the world to have spent my days with her. I hope there’s a heaven up there.”

Playwright Jeremy O Harris gave a tribute on Twitter, describing Dean as a “true talent”.

He said: “This is absolutely devastating. Charlbi Dean was such an exciting performer to me after seeing her in Triangle of Sadness.

“Her work had a vulnerability and intellect a lesser actor would have denied the character.”