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An athletic teenager, Lopez participates in track and field at Preston High School in her native Bronx, N.Y., before graduating in 1987. She takes the local 6 train into Manhattan for dance auditions and her subway rides later inspire the title of her 1999 debut CD, On the 6.
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Lopez (pictured bottom) gets her first big break in 1991 as a member of the dance troupe the Fly Girls on the FOX sketch comedy show In Living Color. Also joining Lopez on the show? Dancing with the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba (top right), and comics Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx.
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In 1997, Lopez weds Ojani Noa in Miami – but the couple get divorced 13 months later. The two stay friends (Noa later manages her restaurant, Madre's), but she eventually sues her ex, claiming he threatened to write a tell-all about their relationship.
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Although fans initially decry the casting of a Puerto Rican actress as slain Mexican singer Selena in the 1997 biopic, Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla, supports Lopez's portrayal of his daughter. Comedian Paul Rodriguez, a Quintanilla family friend, tells PEOPLE, "Looking at Jennifer, you could swear that the killing was all just a bad nightmare."
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She stars as a U.S. marshal opposite robber-on-the-run George Clooney in 1998's sexy drama Out of Sight – and the movie goes on to score an Oscar nomination. "You have to believe she could pick up a gun and shoot you, and you still have to want to chase her around the couch," Clooney says of Lopez's performance.
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Looking straight out of the Bronx in a bedazzled bandanna, hoop earrings and hip-hugging white jeans, Lopez arrives at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards hand-in-hand with then-boyfriend Sean Combs (then known as Puffy). She embraces Combs (who produced and wrote a track on On the 6) before accepting the best dance video award for "Waiting for Tonight."
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Lopez manages to look fabulous as she leaves a New York City court in early Jan. 2000. The singer met with the district attorney regarding an incident a month before involving members of Combs's entourage, who fired shots into the air and injured bystanders during a club scuffle. That night, police handcuffed Lopez to a bench in the station and grilled her for 14 hours before she was cleared of any charges.
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"It didn't seem that out there to me," Lopez says of the now-infamous Versace dress, which she wore to the 2000 Grammy Awards. "It was a good-looking dress. It wasn't as open as it looked on TV. I had no idea it was going to be such a big deal." It was – and South Park creator Trey Parker spoofed Lopez a few years later, arriving at the Oscars in a knockoff of her iconic gown.
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Naming her sophomore disc after her Bronx nickname, Lopez makes history when J.Lo is released in early 2001. The same week that the album topped Billboard's album charts, her romantic comedy The Wedding Planner opens at No. 1 at the box office, making her the first actress-singer in history to have both the No. 1 album and movie simultaneously.
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WHAT A FOX!
Following her Valentine's Day split from Combs, Lopez rebounds at the 2001 Academy Awards, turning heads (again) with her sheer Chanel gown and luxe false eyelashes made from red fox fur.
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DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
Lopez launches her own clothing line in conjunction with Tommy Hilfiger's brother Andy, called J.Lo by Jennifer Lopez. Describing the look as "sporty chic," she says, "From little to voluptuous, everybody gets to be sexy."
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I DO (PART 2)
After only a one-month engagement, Lopez ties the knot for the second time with backup dancer Cris Judd, who appeared in the video for "Love Don't Cost a Thing." "She wasn't nervous," a guest says. "She was radiating love."
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It just wouldn't be an awards show without a dramatic statement from Lopez! Only at the 2002 Academy Awards, her pale-pink Versace gown wasn't raising eyebrows – it was her super-high bouffant hairdo that got people talking. "I loved it, I wanted to do my hair like that," Lopez told TV Guide Online. "I always do what I feel. I can't get wrapped up in what everybody thinks all the time."
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Amid reports that her relationship with Judd is on the rocks, in April 2002 Lopez celebrates the opening of her Latin-themed restaurant Madre's in Pasadena, Calif. Celebs in attendance include Nicole Kidman – and her costar in Gigli, Ben Affleck, who fed reports of an on-set romance by taking out a $3,000 ad in Hollywood Reporter praising Lopez's "graciousness of spirit, beauty in courage, great empathy, astonishing talent, real poise and true grace."
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BACK TO THE BRONX
Lopez and Judd appear in the video for her Top 10 summer jam, "I'm Gonna Be Alright" – which some critics thought was about her relationship with Combs. (It wasn't: He actually worked with Lopez on the remix album on which the single was featured.) In the New York-centric clip, Lopez plays stickball, sunbathes in the street and hits the laundromat with her hair in rollers. But Judd and Lopez don't last, and the couple splits in June 2002 – the month the video hits MTV.
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BENNIFER MAKE A STATEMENT
Lopez, who introduced Ben Affleck as her boyfriend to friends before filing for divorce from Judd, costars with him in her video for "Jenny from the Block," the first single from her third disc, This Is Me ... Then. In the clip, which looks like it was filmed with surveillance cameras, the couple – dubbed Bennifer – play on the intense media interest in their romance.
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It's the most talked-about accessory of the year! The ring Lopez flaunts in the "Jenny from the Block" video is the real deal – a 6.1-carat pink diamond from Harry Winston, which Affleck had custom-made for Lopez. The two keep their engagement a secret until Lopez spills the beans to Diane Sawyer in Nov. 2002. In the interview, after admitting that she initially thought of Affleck as one of those "skirt chasers," Lopez said she considered the actor "brilliantly smart ... Loving. Charming. Affectionate. And I just admire him in every way."
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WHAT A FEELIN'!
Paying homage to the iconic film Flashdance in her video for 2002's "I'm Glad," Lopez performs similar routines and wears similar outfits as Jennifer Beals did in the 1983 movie. The recreation of the Flashdance scenes led Maureen Marder (whose life inspired the original film) to sue, but the lawsuit was later dismissed.
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Instead of shocking at the 2003 Academy Awards, Lopez goes for pure glamour, landing at the top of best-dressed lists in this one-shouldered Valentino, which was based on a design for former First Lady Jackie Kennedy.
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THE BEGINNING OF THE END
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A LASTING REBOUND
Three weeks after splitting from Affleck, Lopez and former flame Marc Anthony are spotted together at her Miami Beach mansion. On June 5, 2004, Lopez says "I do" a third time, tying the knot at Anthony's Beverly Hills home. That September, she throws him a surprise 36th birthday party at his Brookville, N.Y., home, and the couple treat guests to an impromptu duet.
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A BIG DEBUT
A beaming Lopez makes her Fashion Week debut in February 2005, showing off her brand-new Sweetface collection – on a crystal-covered catwalk! – in what was the most sought-after show of the week. "I loved it. It was fabulous," says Vogue's editor-at-large André Leon Talley. "Everything was relevant because it looked like her."
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MAKING SWEET MUSIC
Even though they still hadn't publicly confirmed their marriage, Lopez and Anthony take the stage at the Grammy Awards in 2005, performing a telenovela-inspired duet of their song, "Escapemonos" (from his Grammy-nominated album Amar Sin Mentiras). The performance was their first-ever public duet – and their first appearance as a married couple.
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DOUBLE THE DIVA
Embracing her inner-action hero in a 2005 Kill Bill-style Pepsi ad, Lopez and Beyoncé Knowles kick major butt – and later flirt with David Beckham, who makes a cameo in the clip.
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At the 2005 Billboard Latin Music Awards, Lopez sets gossip columns on fire – again – with her intricately scrolled hairdo, which was voted "Biggest Hair Trauma of 2005" by some blogs.
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J.FO vs. J.LO
For the 2005 comedy Monster-in-Law, Lopez teams up with Jane Fonda, who appears in her first film in 15 years. "She looks like a piece of Mayan sculpture, and her skin is really beautiful," says the veteran actress of Lopez. Unfortunately, Lopez isn't as big a hit with PETA, who protest the film's premiere in May.
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PUERTO RICAN PRIDE
Native New Yorkers Lopez and Anthony – both of Puerto Rican descent – lead Manhattan's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 11, 2006. "I've never tried to hide the fact that I'm Latina. I think that's why Hispanics are like, 'She's ours; she's out there, but she belongs to us' – and that's true," Lopez tells People en Español. "With the Latino community, I am theirs. I do belong to them – that's who I am."
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Ever the awards-show stunner, Lopez glitters at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards in a sparkling Biba minidress – with a matching turban. When asked to defend the outfit – which some said looked like she had raided Gloria Swanson's closet – Lopez told MTV: "I don't defend my outfits. Are you kidding me? I don't need to defend it. You can kiss my ass."
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A GLAM GUEST
In Rome to attend the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, all eyes are on Lopez as she wears a stunning one-shouldered Marchesa gown to their rehearsal dinner on Nov. 16, 2006. On the bride? A demure pantsuit.
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A TELLTALE BUMP
While on the El Cantante tour with hubby Marc Anthony, a wind machine offers a glimpse underneath Lopez's flowing Roberto Cavalli-designed costume – revealing a prominent baby bump at the Oct. 3, 2007 stop in Uncasville, Conn. "I used a lot of stretch fabrics," Cavalli tellingly tells PEOPLE of his tour outfits.
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A few days later, Lopez arrives to the Late Show with David Letterman hiding her figure in a heavy coat. Although Letterman avoids grilling Lopez about whether or not she's pregnant, he does ask her if she would practice tough love like her mother Guadalupe. "If I can be as great a mom as she is," Lopez responds, "then I will be alright."
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YES, I'M PREGNANT!
"Marc and I are expecting a baby!" Lopez announces to a not-so-shocked crowd on Nov. 7, 2007 – the final stop of the El Cantante tour. She later jokes about hiding her pregnancy to Harper's Bazaar, saying, "I kind of feel like everybody knew anyway. I was on tour with a bubble gut!"
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Just a day after her father David confirms that Lopez is expecting twins, a Gucci-clad Lopez steps out looking very glam – and very pregnant – with Anthony for Madonna and Gucci's Raising Malawi UNICEF benefit. As an attendee at her baby shower the month before tells PEOPLE, "You can tell [she and Marc] are so excited to meet their little babies. They're going to be wonderful, loving parents."
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MEET EMME & MAX
Naming her twins Emme and Max, Lopez and Anthony welcome the twosome on Feb. 22, 2008. The twins are a month old when they make their debut on the cover of PEOPLE. "I knew I'd be protective. I knew I'd love them intensely and passionately," Lopez tells PEOPLE.
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Now that's how you make a red-carpet comeback. In her first public appearance after welcoming her twins, Lopez dazzles at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala in May. She got her body back by working out three times a week with trainer Gunnar Peterson. "She looks great," he said. "If you're in terrific shape to start with, it's easier to get back into shape post-pregnancy."
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Conservative and chic in a slim-fitting RM by Roland Mouret dress, Lopez shows off her svelte figure alongside Victoria Beckham at the Marc Jacobs show during New York's Fashion Week in September. Lopez's post-baby body is the result of her hardcore new workout schedule: the new mom was training for the Nautica Malibu Triahtalon!
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FROM WORKOUT TO WORKING IT
Lopez begins her day on Sept. 14, 2008 by running, swimming and biking in the 18-mile Nautica Malibu Triathalon, which she finishes in 2 hours, 23 minutes and 28 seconds. But instead of spending her night with her feet up, she slid them into heels – and put on a flowing Marchesa gown – to step out in New York for a surprise party for Anthony. "I told him it was such a busy weekend, that I might not be able to do anything [for his birthday]," Lopez says of how she pulled off the surprise.
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ALL THAT GLITTERS
Golden at the Golden Globes in 2009, Lopez flaunts her curves in a bugle-beaded Marchesa gown, Roger Vivier heels and Lorraine Schwartz jewels. Not only did she land on best-dressed lists, she had one of the funniest lines of the night. Opening the ceremony, Lopez shushed the crowd by saying, "Hello? Mama talking!"
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HAPPILY EVER AFTER
A beaming Lopez brings Max and Emme onstage during Anthony's Valentine's Day show at Madison Square Garden in 2009. A week later, the couple celebrate the twins' first birthday with a backyard barbecue. "I've been very career-oriented my whole life and very focused on my own world and my own life, and all of a sudden the focus just shifts," Lopez told PEOPLE earlier. "It's like, 'Whoosh!' I want to do everything for them."