`Left Eye' of TLC lived life her way

Spirited artist dies in a car accident

April 27, 2002|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

There seemed to be no public middle ground with Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. You were a fan, or you thought she was nuts.

Lopes, the 30-year-old, hip-hop flavor of R&B megastar group TLC, died Thursday in Honduras, killed in a car accident while on vacation. She was the "Crazy" in TLC's "Crazysexycool" persona. It was a role she and those around her embraced. It was who she was - outspoken, sweet and temperamental. If you didn't like it, too bad.

She wasn't a great artist in the truest sense of the word. However, her homegirl edge fit well in one of the most successful R&B groups of the 1990s. TLC will be remembered as one of the few all-girl groups that tackled issues like AIDS and the self-image turmoil of teen girls. TLC didn't change the world, but its members did enough to make pop music a little bit better.

The trio's strength was its personalities, of which Lopes had the most flamboyant. Like her or not, there aren't enough women like Lopes in the world, especially in pop music, where stars are insulated by dozens of people paid to be concerned with image.

Just ask her ex-boyfriend, former NFL star Andre Rison. When she got fed up with his staying out all night, her rage resulted in his mansion being burned down.

Obviously, arson is a loathsome crime, and it became the albatross Lopes could never shake. But despite overshadowing the quality pop music she helped create for more a decade, the incident and its aftermath illustrate an airtight point about Lopes: She did things her way, and you could deal with it or find someone else to listen to.

Funny thing is, Rison stayed with her. There was something about her he just couldn't leave. Her groupmates Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas stayed with her, too, despite being angry over her threats to go solo two years ago, in the middle of their most successful tour.

As necessary as she was to TLC, going solo would have been a bad idea. Lopes had some talent, but she shouldn't be elevated to great artist status because she died young. Her true talent was in her bubbly, irresistible yet sometimes nasty personality, and her ability to cut through music-business politics with well-placed honesty.

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