Tommaso Boddi/WireImage; Momodu Mansaray/WireImage
On Friday, shortly after news of Heche's death was confirmed, the Dancing with the Stars judge opened up to PEOPLE about her memories of the late actress and the remarkable impact she left on the world.
"She was a unique person," Inaba, 54, says in an exclusive statement. "So open and vulnerable, yet also so direct and courageous. I believe she was someone who was often misunderstood … and like all humans, she made mistakes."
"But when I watched her perform up close, all I could feel from her was joy and an open heart," she continued, referencing Heche's participation on DWTS during the 29th season in 2020. "She loved to perform and she wasn't afraid to fail."
"She was a rare and precious person and I am sad that she has left us and her family so soon," Inaba added. "I wish her family healing and love … and may Anne Heche rest and play in peace now … She will always be a part of the DWTS family."
Earlier in the day, Inaba posted a heartfelt tribute to Heche on her Instagram.
"This was a post by @AnneHeche a while back," Inaba wrote beside a photo of Heche holding up her palm against a window. "I remember seeing it and being so happy for her. She looks at peace with herself and the world around her. She seems hopeful and free."
"I've been thinking of her since her accident last week and like many of you, my heart is heavy…" she continued, before detailing Heche's time on DWTS and the actress' impact in and out of the ballroom.
"Anne was one of the stars on @dancingwiththestars that truly touched my heart," she wrote. "Her personal story was one that reached into my heart and squeezed it. I could feel the pain she felt, and I could also feel her resilient and courageous soul. And it was touching. I had no idea all that she had gone through in this lifetime and I felt a connection to her and the struggles she faced in life. Despite her trials and tribulations, she had a bright light when she came out on that stage to dance."
"Every time she performed, there was a sense of complete joy and a celebration of life," she added. "It was pure. And it was special.✨❤️"
While Inaba said she was "heart broken" for Heche's loved ones, her thoughts were also with all those who were affected by the Los Angeles car crash, which took place one week before Heche's death and caused tenant Lynne Mishele's home to catch fire.
Gregory Arlt Anne Heche
"I am so heart broken for her and for those who love her," she wrote. "It is a tragedy in the fullest sense of the word. Not only for her but for the people who were also hurt and lost things in this incident. Lives are changed forever. In an instant… I swallow the tears that keep wanting to flow when I think of her in that burning car, wondering what happened right before the accident. It seems from the outside like there was some sort of emotional distress. Pain. Panic. Fear. Frustration. Disorientation. Sadness. I don't know… none of us do."
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To conclude, Inaba left a personal message for Heche, expressing her gratitude for the time they were able to spend together.
"Anne, I just wanted to say I'm grateful to have had the chance to SEE you," she wrote. "You had a great impact on many of us not only with your talent, but also with your free spirit. Thank you for the unique being you are. I'm praying for you. And so are many others. I hope you can feel it."
Michael Bezjian/Getty for Mammoth Media Institute Anne Heche
On Friday afternoon, PEOPLE confirmed the actress' death, one week after the fiery car wreck in the Mar Vista community of Los Angeles. She was 53.
"Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend," a rep for the star told PEOPLE in a statement on behalf of Heche's family and friends.
"Anne will be deeply missed but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy. Her bravery for always standing in her truth, spreading her message of love and acceptance, will continue to have a lasting impact."
The family's rep confirmed to PEOPLE that, while Heche was legally dead according to California law, her heart was still beating and she had not been taken off life support yet in order to allow OneLegacy Foundation enough time to find recipients who will be a match.
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Since then, celebrities across Hollywood have paid tribute to the actress.
Heche's former DWTS partner, Keo Motsepe, was among those who shared tributes, writing a heartfelt message to Heche on Instagram. Alongside a broken heart emoji, he wrote: "I love you @anneheche"
He also shared a series of videos on his Instagram Story from their time on the ABC dance competition show. "Love you lady," he wrote beside one photo of them together in matching yellow attire.
"We had fun and thank you for always being you," he added in another slide.