Kitaen was born in San Diego, California, in 1961, the daughter of Linda (née Taylor), a housewife and a former beauty pageant participant, and Terry Kitaen, an employee of a neon sign company. Julie began using the name “Tawny” at the age of 12, on her own initiative.
Kitaen began her acting career in 1983 with a minor role in the television movie Malibu. In 1984, she starred as the title character of the erotic-adventure movie The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak, also called Gwendoline. She also co-starred in the movie Bachelor Party as the bride-to-be of a young Tom Hanks, and was the star of the 1986 horror movie Witchboard.
Kitaen appeared in several videos in the 1980s for the band Whitesnake, including the hits “Here I Go Again” and “Is This Love;” she was then dating Whitesnake’s lead singer, David Coverdale, to whom she was later briefly married.
Kitaen was also in 19 episodes of the TV series The New WKRP in Cincinnati from 1991 to 1993 as a night-time DJ named Mona Loveland; in the show, her night-time program was called Midnight With Mona.
Kitaen was one of the cast of the sixth edition of the VH1 reality television show The Surreal Life, which began airing in March of 2006. While trying to deal with chemical-dependence issues described below in more detail, which marred her legal status as also detailed below, Kitaen also appeared in the second season of the VH1 reality TV show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which began in October of 2008. Dr. Drew Pinsky, who moderated Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, subsequently came under fire for the fact that at least two celebrities he had tried to help, television actor Jeff Conaway and country-and-western singer Mindy McCready, had subsequently died of complications of their respective dependences.
Kitaen married Whitesnake lead singer David Coverdale in 1989. Nevertheless, she had an affair with O.J. Simpson during Simpson’s marriage to Nicole Brown and her marriage to Coverdale. Kitaen divorced Coverdale in 1991 and was married to baseball player Chuck Finley from 1997 to 2002. She has two daughters, Wynter Finley (b. 1993) and Raine Finley (b. 1998).
In 2002, Kitaen was charged with domestic violence for an incident involving her then husband, professional baseball player Chuck Finley. Three days later, Finley filed for divorce. After a plea bargain, Kitaen agreed to “enter a spousal battery counseling program and avoid contact with Finley.” The couple had been married for five years and had two daughters together, Wynter and Raine.
In November 2006, prosecutors charged Kitaen with possessing 15 grams of cocaine in her San Juan Capistrano home in Orange County. The authorities said her two children were home at the time and Kitaen had given deputies permission for the search. In December 2006, she entered a six-month rehabilitation program in exchange for the dismissal of a felony drug possession charge.