Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, the most recognizable and flamboyant member of the R&B trio TLC, died Thursday in a car crash in Honduras, adding a tragic new twist to the group's famously tumultuous and historically successful pop career.
A spokesman for Lopes said Friday that the 30-year-old musician died from head injuries suffered while driving a rented sport utility vehicle that flipped over.
The Mitsubishi Montero was packed with seven people, among them Lopes' two siblings, and although some of the passengers were reportedly injured, the details were sketchy Friday.
"The car rolled for reasons that we still don't know and that are being investigated," local police spokesman Luis Aguilar told the Associated Press.
The singer frequently visited Honduras and during this visit was performing volunteer work with children, her publicist said Friday.
The death of the pixieish Lopes will only add to the melodrama of Atlanta-based TLC, which is nearly as famous for its travails as for the savvy and sensual brand of urban feminism displayed in such hits as "No Scrubs," "Waterfalls," "Unpretty" and "Creep."
With only three albums released, TLC has sold more albums than any other female group in pop history.
Lopes made headlines on her own too, including a 1994 confession to charges that she burned down the Atlanta mansion of her boyfriend, professional football star Andre Rison. That incident, along with the group's feuds and bankruptcy, made TLC a classic example of the wrenching roller- coaster of pop fame.
"I hope we go down in history for being something more than just another famous act that got ripped off....This is a cutthroat business full of greedy individuals who take advantage of naive young artists," Lopes told The Times in 1996.
Lopes, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas not only found commercial success with the early 1990s R&B revival known as "new Jill swing," but also fashioned themselves as message musicians. Their topics ranged from the dangers of gangs and AIDS in "Waterfalls" to the more mundane neighborhood louts they called out in "No Scrubs." The group won four Grammys through the years.
"We had all grown up together and were as close as a family," Watkins and Thomas said Friday in a joint statement. "Today we have truly lost our sister."
Pain and the push for success were part of Lopes' life since childhood. Born in Philadelphia in May 1971, she was one of three children and was raised in a home she once described as a "boot camp." She was an artistic child, and her father, a military veteran, pushed her through talent contests and punished her physically for failure, she told Vibe magazine. "He looked at me like I was the brightest [in the family] and expected more from me," she said. "I always got beaten before they did."
She said her father also used alcohol to bond with his young daughter. "He gave me my first drink," she told Vibe, "and my hundredth." Her father died when she 17, four years before she would become a success with the fledgling TLC.
The TLC story began in 1991 when R&B singer Pebbles assembled the group, became its manager and got the band a record deal with a nascent label called LaFace. One of LaFace's co-owners, Antonio "L.A." Reid, was then married to Pebbles, whose real name is Perri Reid. The TLC success would drive LaFace up the charts, but the group's financial battles would split the Reid marriage.
The 1992 hits "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" and "Baby, Baby, Baby" gave the group quick success. Lopes, with a high, rapid-fire delivery, would become a flamboyant face for the group. In performance, she covered the left lens of her eyeglasses with a packaged condom, creating a signature visual for the group and popularizing her "Left Eye" nickname.
The Lopes persona would become the frenetic third of TLC, and when the group's 1994 smash album "CrazySexyCool" was described as having a self-referencing title, there was no doubt that the "crazy" one was the diminutive Lopes. "All three of the members are extremely original and unique, and Lisa was the extrovert," music video and film director Hype Williams said Friday. "She had this crazy energy, and anybody who knew her can tell you that. She was spur of the moment and one of the most creative people I've ever met."
Williams directed the futuristic images of the video for the single "No Scrubs," which hit No. 1 in 1999 and became a sensation in nightclubs, where women would cheer its admonishment of parasitic boyfriends. The sexual politics and slinky harmonies were a critical sensation as well--"No Scrubs" was selected as the best single of 1999 by the 489 music critics surveyed by the Village Voice in its annual music poll.