Inside the turbulent life and sudden death of TLC's Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes.


Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes was just 19 years old when she went to an open casting call for an all-female R&B/hip-hop trio.

It was 1990 and she’d just moved to Atlanta, Georgia from her native Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with little more than a small keyboard and $750 to her name, as reported by CapitalXtra.

Before long, the talented rapper and singer had joined Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas to form TLC.

Right from the start Lopes was by far the most flamboyant member of the group, with her neon hats worn backwards and her baggy parachute pants.

TLC: Tionne Watkins, Lisa Lopes (centre) and Rozonda Thomas. Image: Getty.

She emphasised her nickname 'Left Eye' (given to her by a previous boyfriend who noticed her left eye was larger than her right) by wearing a pair of glasses with the right lens covered by a condom – from early in her career Lopes outwardly promoted safe sex and female empowerment.

TLC enjoyed a series of smash hits, including Waterfalls, No Scrubs, and Unpretty.

But amid the success, Lopes courted controversy.

She was often vocal about her personal life and her difficult upbringing. According to the Telegraph, she was raised by an abusive, alcoholic father and later would speak of her own drinking problem.

In March 1993, she began dating NFL Atlanta Falcons player Andre Rison, but their relationship was stormy. Six months in, as reported by People, the couple argued in a grocery store carpark. Rison allegedly assaulted Lopes then fired his gun to warn passers-by not to intervene. He was arrested but the charges were dropped.

In June the following year, the couple fought in the early hours of the morning after returning to their home following separate nights out.

"I knew she'd been drinking some," Rison later told People. "But I didn't know what was upsetting her. I started taking blows to the face. Finally, I grabbed her and asked her what was wrong. But she kept coming at me."


Eventually Rison left the house and went to stay with one of his team mates.

Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes with boyfriend, NFL player Andre Rison. Image: Getty. 

Meanwhile, Lopes dumped several pairs of Rison's new sneakers in the bathtub and set them alight. The entire house caught on fire – and while it burned, Lopes took a lead pipe to the windows of his Toyota truck and his two Mercedes-Benz cars.


She turned herself into the police the following day and was charged with felony arson. She entered rehab for alcohol abuse and received five years probation and a $10,000 fine.

The house the couple shared was completely burned to the ground. But Rison forgave Lopes and the pair rekindled their relationship.

In November that year, unbothered, Lopes appeared on the cover of Vibe magazine dressed in firefighter's gear, under the coverline: 'TLC Fires It Up: Burning Up The Charts, Burning Down The House'. 

Meanwhile, TLC continued to enjoy great success, but Lopes was ruffling feathers there too.

In 1999, when the group was recording their third album, FanMail, Lopes told  Vibe magazine: "I've graduated from this era. I cannot stand 100 percent behind this TLC project and the music that is supposed to represent me."

In response, Watkins and Thomas told Entertainment Weekly that Lopes "doesn't respect the whole group" and "Left Eye is only concerned with Left Eye."

After the Grammy Award winning FanMail was released, Lopes challenged her group members to release rival solo albums.

When Watkins and Thomas refused, Lopes went it alone. She was featured on several singles, including Spice Girl Melanie C's Never Be the Same Again and the Donell Jones hit, U Know What's Up. She also released an album, Supernova, but it wasn't received well by critics and her label made the decision not to release it anywhere else.


Lopes featured on Spice Girl Melanie C's Never Be the Same Again. Image: Getty 

In April 2002, Lopes, wanting to escape, began production on an introspective documentary intended to chronicle her "spiritual journey" in Honduras.


She travelled with her sister, Reigndrop Lopes, and the R&B group, Egypt, who she was mentoring at the time, planning to film in the forest for 30 days.

"That's the plan," Lopes says in the footage. "I say that’s the plan because things always change."

And things did change.

On April 25, Lopes was driving a rented Mitsubishi Montero SUV when she swerved off the road.

Her brother, sister, two producers and the members of Egypt, who were in the car, all survived the crash.

But Lopes was killed instantly. She was just 30 years old.

In a statement, her TLC partners, Watkins and Thomas said: "We had all grown up together and were as close as a family. Today we have truly lost our sister."

In 2007, director Lauren Lazin released a film titled The Last Days of Left Eye, a mixture of recovered footage from the weeks before Lopes' death spliced with archive shots from her life and TV shows.

It is a brutal look into the star's mind-set at the time of her death. In an era before selfies, there is much footage of her talking to a  handheld camera, setting the record straight about many aspects of her life.

On her alcoholism, she describes how she becomes a different person: "What? I didn't tell y'all about Nina? My evil twin, who came from within, on whom I blame all of my sins," she says.


She also speaks about her allegedly abusive relationship with Rison, while running her fingers across a sinister carving of the word "HATE" on her forearm.

There's also footage that eerily foreshadows Lopes' accident. Days before, a car she was riding in struck and killed a 10-year-old Honduran boy who walked out into the road. While the accident wasn't filmed, there is footage of Lopes at the hospital, comforting the boy's mother and giving her money for his treatment and funeral.

"I don't think I will ever get over it," she says in the documentary.

She describes feeling like she's being followed by a spirit, and believing the spirit is trying to kill her, but got the young boy instead.

Days later she was killed in her own crash. The footage of the final moments of her life were recovered from the wreckage and is played at the end of film; the screams of the other passengers in the vehicle are haunting.

To this day, Watkins and Thomas, who continue to perform, have refused to replace Lopes.

When asked in an interview with ABC Primetime, Watkins said: "Never, never." Thomas responded, "Oh god no. I mean honestly? Never, ever, ever, ever. We have die-hard fans out there, and I'm sure they would be very upset if we tried to replace Lisa."