by Clarissa Cruz and Tom Sinclair
On the last TLC tour in 1999, Lisa ”Left Eye” Lopes would begin her solo spot in each show by reciting definitions of crazy: ”Unsound of mind, mentally unbalanced, deranged…” Then she would perform a magic act involving nitroglycerin and fire. It was fitting. As the ”crazy” component of the ”CrazySexyCool” triumvirate, Lopes often engaged in combustible behavior — sometimes singeing groupmates Rozonda ”Chilli” Thomas, 31, and Tionne ”T-Boz” Watkins, 32. Now, sadly, Lopes is gone. The tragically unpretty end came April 25 on a country road outside the Honduran town of Jutiapa, where the rambunctious 30-year-old rapper-singer was taking a break from recording the trio’s fourth album. Authorities say Lopes was at the wheel when she lost control of her rented Mitsubishi Montero SUV, which tumbled into a ravine, killing her within minutes.
Miraculously, eight other passengers escaped severe injury — including Lopes’ sister Raina, 28, and the R&B quartet Egypt, which Lopes was producing. Her body was flown to her adopted hometown of Atlanta, where a May 2 funeral was scheduled. (Weeks before, on April 6, Lopes had been in a van when her assistant, Stephanie Patterson, struck and killed a 10-year-old Honduran boy who stepped in front of them on a rural highway; the boy’s family declined to press charges.)
Whatever acrimony might have existed in TLC has been lost with Lopes. ”She was our sister,” Thomas told CNN April 26. ”And no matter what we all went through, we are sisters. Sisters argue and they kiss and make up.” She and Watkins vow they won’t seek a substitute. ”You can never replace a TLC girl,” Thomas added in a statement. The group had completed four or five tracks for the new CD, which had been slated for a fall release. ”We will definitely come out with this record, and it will be a tribute to Lisa and is totally dedicated to her,” said Thomas. (Arista declined to comment on the disc’s status.)
At the time of her death, Lopes’ plate was certainly full. In addition to the TLC album, she had been working on a book, ”Open,” a clothing line, and a solo CD for Marion ”Suge” Knight’s Tha Row label under the pseudonym N.I.N.A., signifying ”New Identity Non-Applicable.” (Though his former label Death Row issued several posthumous Tupac Shakur discs, Knight said in a statement he would hold off on releasing any Lopes solo tracks because ”it is a sad thing to turn tragedy into treasure.”)
Life had not always been easy for Lopes, who adopted the nickname ”Left Eye” in her teens after being told that orb was more distinctive. Born in Philadelphia, the oldest of three, she used music to escape a home dominated by an alcoholic father, Ronald, a musician who died in 1991. (Mom Wanda Lopes-Coleman, 50, now lives in Stone Mountain, Ga.) After moving to Atlanta at 17, Left Eye met Watkins at a 1991 open audition for an R&B girl group. Soon, Perri ”Pebbles” Reid, then wife of LaFace co-owner L.A. Reid, became their manager and added Thomas to the lineup. The trio’s 1992 debut, ”Ooooooohhh…on the TLC Tip,” got some notice. But 1994’s ”CrazySexyCool” — with the hit singles ”Waterfalls” and ”Creep” — won a Grammy for Best R&B Album and cemented their divadom. In 1995, TLC filed for bankruptcy and a legal imbroglio ensued, resulting in a more favorable contract with LaFace.