Though it was often her personal behavior that received more attention from the press and public than did her music, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, in fact, had an international following. The R&B singer with the group TLC died late Thursday in a car accident while in Honduras. Lopes was reportedly the only fatality in a crash involving a car carrying seven people. She was 30.
Lopes was in Honduras doing charity work for a child development center, the Associated Press reported. Since Hurricane Mitch wreaked havoc in Central America in 1998, killing thousands and causing billions of dollars in damage, Lopes has traveled to the north coast of Honduras frequently to work with a nonprofit organization, U.S. Embassy spokesman Carlos Bakota told the news service.
In Britain, Lopes has been a favorite for the past two years, since she was invited to cohost the 2000 Music of Black Origin Awards (Mobo) in London, BBC News reported on its Web site Friday. Mobo founder Kanya King admitted to the BBC that she was initially apprehensive about Lopes’s “notorious reputation,” but as soon as Lopes — donning a bright green wig — arrived to handle the event, all fears were put to rest.
“Unfortunately, her press coverage was not about her fantastic musical ability and the inspiration to many people, but that is how we will remember her,” said King.
A Philadelphia native, Lopes got her nickname from her habit of replacing one lens of her eyeglasses with a condom during performances. Some critics considered her distinctive voice fast-paced and squeaky. But when Lopes appeared on a celebrity edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” she told host Regis Philbin in no uncertain terms, “I don’t sing. I rap.”
TLC, formed in 1991, joining then-20-year-old Lopes with Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas (Tionne was the “T, “Chilli” the “C” and Lopes the “L” in the group’s name). The group made its debut in 1992 with the nearly triple platinum-selling album Ooooooohhh . . . On the TLC Tip!
In 1994, the band delivered CrazySexyCool, and by then each performer had developed her own personality. Lopes was deemed the “crazy” member of the group, Thomas the “sexy” one and Watkins the “cool” one, noted the Associated Press.
The CD included the No. 1 hit “Creep” and won TLC, which was also known for its flashy videos, the first two of an eventual four Grammys.
The incident that made Lopes practically a household name occurred that same year, when Lopes pleaded guilty to arson after torching the $1 million mansion of her then-boyfriend, former Atlanta Falcons receiver Andre Rison. She was fined $10,000, given five years’ probation, instructed to seek treatment for alcohol abuse and sentenced to reside for several months in a halfway house. (In 1996, Lopes again sought treatment after becoming despondent following the death of her close friend Tupac Shakur.)
Later, Lopes and Rison announced plans to marry, but broke the engagement soon after.
But that incident wasn’t the end of TLC’s woes. In 1995, amid long-simmering stories about friction it the group, they declared bankruptcy, blaming poorly conceived recording contracts.
In 2000, after the release of TLC’s triple-platinum disc Fanmail, Lopes took insults about her colleagues public, challenging Watkins and Thomas to a sales contest so it could be determined who was the most popular member. Lopes’s solo album, Supernova, was released by Arista last year — and tanked.
Lopes didn’t let the setback from her solo record stop her from pursuing other extra-curricular projects, such as guest-rapping on albums of stars such as ‘N Sync, Toni Braxton and Mya. She also formed her own company, Left Eye Productions, and a record label, Wish Records, and has mentored top-10 R&B group Blaque.
And the members of TLC were never rivals, insists TLC’s Watkins, who last year told AP in an interview, “With three women, you agree to disagree. I’m not always going to agree with Lisa, and she’s not always going to agree with me. That’s fine.”
In the end, “We had all grown up together and were as close as a family,” Watkins and Thomas said in a statement released to CNN. “Today we have truly lost our sister.”
— STEPHEN M. SILVERMAN