Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was the heart of TLC and one of the top rappers of the 1990s before she was tragically killed in a car crash in Honduras.
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was one of the most prominent American musicians to come out of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Notable for her standout performances as a member of the R&B group TLC, the rapper served as the group’s chief lyricist and her influence can still be felt today, as songs like “No Scrubs,” “Waterfalls,” and “Creep” nostalgically hearken back to the turn of the 21st century in a uniquely endearing fashion.
Offstage, Lopes was known for her advocacy and her controversy. She used her prominence and TLC’s music to draw attention to serious issues like gang violence and AIDS, but she also made headlines for burning down the $1.3 million home she shared with her boyfriend, football player Andre Rison.
The news that Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes had suddenly died at age 30 in 2002 was likewise shrouded in controversy. It was soon revealed that just weeks before she was killed in a car crash in Honduras, she was riding in a van that fatally struck a 10-year-old Honduran boy — whose last name was Lopes.
Years later, a VH1 documentary, The Last Days of Left Eye, showed footage that Lopes herself had filmed in the days leading up to her untimely death, in which she said that she felt as if a “spirit” was haunting her.
Here’s everything you need to know about Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and the strange and tragic circumstances surrounding her death.
The Troubled Childhood Of Lisa Lopes
Lisa Nicole Lopes was born on May 27, 1971 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of three children born to Wanda and Ronald Lopes Sr., Lopes grew up as an Army brat who described her father as “very strict, very domineering.”
“Strict” and “domineering” was putting it lightly, though, and Lopes’ father could more accurately be described as abusive. According to Access Atlanta, Lopes recalled one instance from her childhood in which her father bit her mother as she was trying to leave the family’s apartment.
“I couldn’t believe he bit her,” she said. “I was horrified, thinking he can’t be biting my mother. She was pushing his face and he would bite her fingers.”
When her mother finally got away, she asked the children if they were coming with her. While Lopes and her brother remained frozen with fear, her sister made a motion to leave, and their father knocked her back down.
“For the rest of the night we sat in the corner terrified that he was going to kill us,” Lopes recalled. “He was laying on the couch with a butcher knife.”
But despite her tumultuous upbringing, Lopes found some solace through music. At a young age, she learned to play the piano and performed in a trio with her siblings, known as The Lopes Kids. They mostly sang at local church events, but it was clear from early on that Lopes had something special, that ever-important je ne sais quoi that comes to define the stars.
Then, in the early 1990s, Lisa Lopes’ big break came.
“Left Eye”: The Heart And Soul Of TLC
When Lopes was 19, she heard about an open casting call for a new R&B/hip-hop girl group and packed her bags for Atlanta. The audition went well and she, along with Tionne Watkins and Crystal Jones, formed the group 2nd Nature under manager Perri “Pebbles” Reid. Shortly thereafter, the group rebranded as TLC — the first letters of each of the members’ names.
However, things didn’t work out with Jones, and so the group replaced her with Damian Dame backup dancer Rozonda Thomas. The group had an issue now, though — the name TLC didn’t make much sense with the updated lineup. So, Thomas was simply given a nickname: Chilli.
Lopes and Watkins adopted nicknames for themselves as well. Watkins went by T-Boz — derived from the first letter of her first name and “Boz,” slang for “boss” — and Lopes went by the name Left Eye, a nickname that predated the group, as New Edition member Michael Bivins had once told her, “It’s your left eye. I don’t know what it is, but it’s beautiful.”
To emphasize the nickname, Lopes sometimes wore a pair of glasses with a condom over the left lens (to promote safe sex) or a black stripe under her left eye. Eventually, she had her left eyebrow pierced.
According to a biography of Lopes from WBSS Media, the group became an instant household name upon the release of their first album Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip in 1992, and when their second album CrazySexyCool was released in 1994, TLC had become one of the biggest girl groups of all time.
That same year, Lopes made headlines for another reason, however. She was in a turbulent relationship with football player Andre Rison, and following an argument, Lopes set fire to the $1.3 million house that the two had been living in. Lopes later said that she only intended to set fire to Rison’s tennis shoes in a bathtub, but the fire quickly spread in the home.
She claimed that Rison had returned from a night out and began beating her, so she set the fire in retaliation. But Lopes ultimately pleaded guilty to arson and was sentenced to five years of probation and fined $10,000 (which was part of the reason why TLC had to declare bankruptcy a year later). She also sought treatment for alcoholism, which was a huge problem for her.
Meanwhile, Lopes also wanted to expand beyond TLC. In a 1999 interview with Vibe, she said, “I’ve graduated from this era. I cannot stand 100 percent behind this TLC project and the music that is supposed to represent me.”
Her group mates didn’t react positively to this, calling Lopes “selfish,” “evil,” and “heartless” after Lopes issued a challenge to them, daring each of them to release a solo album to determine who the “greatest” TLC member was.
Unsurprisingly, Watkins and Thomas declined Lopes’ challenge, but for Lopes, it marked the beginning of what could have been a fruitful solo career. Unfortunately, that career was tragically cut short in 2002.
How Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes Died
Years before Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes tragically died in Honduras, she had long been drawn to the Central American country. It all started after Hurricane Mitch ravaged the nation in 1998. Lopes was determined to help the Honduran people by doing relief work — and later improving literacy there.
But according to People magazine, Lopes didn’t just travel to Honduras to provide aid. She also used it as an escape from the never-ending tribulations of show business — and to “disappear into the bush for days.”
On March 30, 2002, Lopes took one of those trips to Honduras with a group of 12 guests. It was meant to be a spiritual retreat, and Lopes happily footed the bill for the group to attend yoga classes and visit hot springs.
But the trip was far from perfect, despite Lopes’ graciousness. In early April, Lopes’ personal assistant Stephanie Patterson was driving a rented minibus when a 10-year-old Honduran boy jumped in front of the vehicle. Lopes was a passenger in the minibus when it fatally struck the young boy. Lopes immediately got out of the vehicle and ran to the boy, holding his head while others tried to resuscitate him and rushed to take him to a hospital.
She later learned that the boy’s name was Bayron Fuentes Lopes. They weren’t related, but the fact that they shared a last name struck a chord.
No one, including Bayron’s family, reported the incident. His mother, Gloria Fuentes, later said, “Why should we have called the police? Lisa was an excellent person, the way she treated me and took care of my son.”
Lopes paid Bayron’s hospital bills and, later, paid for his funeral.
And even though she wasn’t at fault, the incident stuck with Lopes, and she said, “I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.” Lopes had brought with her a video camera to record much of her trip, and she spoke about the incident on tape. In this footage, which was later used in the VH1 documentary, The Last Days of Left Eye, Lopes said she felt as if a “spirit” was following her.
This sentiment became all the more haunting on April 25, 2002, when 30-year-old Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died in a sudden car crash in Roma, Honduras. On that fateful day, she was driving a rented SUV to a video shoot. The SUV was meant to transport just seven people, but 10 had crammed into it.
As they were driving, Lopes passed a pickup truck, then, speeding, careered off a highway. She was thrown from the van and suffered fatal wounds to her head and chest. Others in the SUV suffered broken bones. Chillingly, since the cameras were rolling the whole time during this ride, this meant that Lopes’ sudden death was accidentally captured on video.
It was a devastatingly brutal end to a life that brought a great many people joy, despite her personal controversies. Her group mates struggled to move on from her death, as well. “We had all grown up together and were as close as a family. Today we have truly lost our sister,” they wrote in a statement.
According to Biography, they could hardly stand to be in the studio, working on their next album and hearing Lopes’ voice from previous recordings.
The group never replaced Lopes — “You can’t replace a TLC girl,” Thomas said — but they have honored her legacy in the years since by continuing to perform and using old footage of Lopes in her absence.
“I want to celebrate her life,” Watkins said in 2017. “I want to feel good about what we did together. I don’t want to be in a dark place anymore. I want to feel like we built something great together and keep that going for her.”
After reading the tragic story of how Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died, read about the death of another music icon, Jim Morrison. Or, learn about the strange disappearance of one of the original singer-songwriters, Connie Converse.