Heartbreaking Details About Ricki Lake

When one thinks of tragic figures in Hollywood, Ricki Lake is probably not one of the first to come to mind. She was bubbly and exuberant as Tracy Turnblad in John Waters' 1988 film "Hairspray," and then had a decade long stint as host of her own daytime talk show, "Ricki Lake," where she always appeared accessible and compassionate.

But Lake has since spoken out about the heartbreaking experiences she endured as a child, as well as several tragic incidents that occurred in her adult life. Looking back, it is clear to see that Lake was putting on a brave face publicly while suffering inside.

From enduring abuse as a child to dealing with health issues as an adult, to losing one of the most important people in her life, Ricki Lake has gone through a lot. Let's take a closer look at the heartbreaking details of Ricki Lake's life, along with how she miraculously overcame adversity.

Her unsupportive first marriage

Ricki Lake married her first husband, illustrator Rob Sussman, in 1994. The couple had two sons together, Milo and Owen, and the marriage lasted for nearly a decade. But Lake revealed in her 2012 memoir, "Never Say Never: Finding a Life That Fits," that the marriage had been on shaky ground quite early on.

"My marriage to Rob had begun to unravel even before we had the kids. ... Rob was now stuck in low gear while my career picked up speed and my worldview grew broader and more complex," Lake wrote. She added, "Rob had always struggled with mood swings, but the more successful I became, the more his ups and downs worsened."

Sussman himself admitted he had an issue with Lake's success as early as 1994 in an interview with People. He claimed that Lake making more money than him "seems really unhealthy and emasculating." He went on to say, "I don't want to become Mr. Ricki Lake."

The couple's divorce was finalized in 2004. Lake wrote in her memoir, "We didn't want our children to one day emulate what had become a dead relationship."

She witnessed the terrifying events of 9/11

Many people were traumatized by the events of September 11, 2001, and Ricki Lake was among them. In fact, she watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center right from her West Village apartment. She was a new mother at the time, having given birth to her youngest son just two months earlier.

She spoke about the experience on "The Dan Wootton Interview" podcast, explaining that she had seen the footage of the first plane on the news, and thinking it was an accident, she went up to the roof of her building to see what had happened. "We had a full view, and I saw the other plane coming down the Hudson ... it was just like slow motion ... and then screaming bloody murder and thinking you're gonna die. I thought it was the end of the world," Lake said.

She went on to explain how the event affected her in that moment and the promise she made to herself. "I had a moment of clarity where I said if I live through this day ... I'm leaving New York, leaving my job, and leaving my husband." Lake stayed true to her vow, but it didn't all happen overnight. Still, she didn't renew her contract for her show "Ricki Lake," she filed for divorce from her husband, and she moved to L.A.

Ricki Lake's grandfather died of AIDS

Ricki Lake has been proactive in raising awareness about many different causes over the years. Often, the impetus for her educational and charitable work is having a personal attachment to a certain cause. Fans may be surprised to know that Lake's work with AIDS awareness stemmed, in part, from losing her grandfather to the disease in the late 1980s. Lake explained in a 2010 interview with CNN, "My grandfather died of AIDS back in the late '80s, when a blood transfusion in a hospital could give you HIV and AIDS. So I'm personally, obviously, connected to this disease and wanting to find a cure."

Lake broached the subject again during a conversation in 2015 with Sandra Bernhard on Bernhard's Sirius XM show, "Sandyland." Lake was promoting her short form documentary "#TreatmentForAll," which focused on HIV and AIDS treatments and access to those treatments. Lake told Bernhard, "[My grandfather] died from a blood transfusion when I was making 'Hairspray' in 1987 ... he didn't know what he died of because the stigma. You didn't talk about that back then."

She accidentally burned a house down

In 2010, Ricki Lake was lucky to have escaped with her and her children's lives after a house fire in Malibu. The incident occurred in a home Lake had been renting, and apparently she accidentally started the fire herself. Lake had been refueling a portable heater, which set a couch on the property on fire. The house burned down, but thankfully no one was injured. A rep told People, "The fire happened very quickly and it was indeed a frightening experience. Right now she feels gratitude and blessings."

Although no one was hurt in the blaze, Lake did not emerge from the experience unscathed. In 2011, she was sued by her landlord for negligence. People reported that the lawsuit claimed, "[Lake] caused the oil to spill which was ignited by the hot heating coils which [Lake] had not allowed to cool." 

Ricki Lake endured sexual abuse as a child

Ricki Lake has been candid about so many difficult experiences she has endured throughout her life, but perhaps the most heartbreaking is her story of having been sexually abused.

Lake revealed in her memoir that she was just 6 years old when she suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a man her parents hired to do some work on their home. "Joe was officially hired to build a rock wall around our suburban property," Lake wrote. "During his frequent work breaks, our 'handyman' would lead me down to the extra bedroom in our basement ... Over and over again, Joe took me down there and put me on that little bed and touched me. And he made me touch him. And each day as he built a wall around our house, I tried to build a wall around myself."

The trauma of the event stayed with Lake for years, affecting everything from her body image to her relationships with men. It wasn't until Lake gave birth that she was able to experience a sense of healing. "I was able to look at my body and see what it was able to do and embrace it," Lake told People. "Sort of let go of all the body image issues."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Dealing with her husband's bipolar disorder

In 2012, Ricki Lake found love again when she married jewelry designer Christian Evans. The couple eloped, and Lake was over the moon for her new man. She tweeted a beautiful picture of herself in her wedding dress with the caption, "Yup. This is me.... Sadie Sadie married lady. Love is in the air. Xo."

The couple, who had been dating since 2010, got along extremely well, and Evans was open with Lake about his bipolar disorder diagnosis. Lake shared with People, "He had a lot of self-esteem issues and a lot of demons. But I understood him, and he was someone that I think a lot of people misunderstood."

All was well until Lake witnessed one of Evans' manic episodes for the first time in 2014. "It presented initially as him being motivated," Lake explained, but things escalated quickly into darker territory. "[He] thought he could fly. He thought he could cure cancer with his hands," Lake revealed to People. "It was horrific. He just wasn't the person I had been with for four years."

Lake eventually filed for divorce, but the couple remained together even after the divorce was finalized. Lake admitted to still loving him and wanted to help him get better.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

The suicide that broke her heart

Ricki Lake and Christian Evans were still together until Evans tragically committed suicide in 2017. Lake was with Evans just days before his death. She went to London for work when she received news that Evans had left a suicide note for his sister. He was found in his car, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a few days later. "The struggle was just too much for him," a tearful Lake told People. "He did the best he could."

Lake took to Instagram to share the heart-wrenching news. She captioned a photo of her and Evans with an emotional message, ending with the words, "Rest in peace, my love."

In 2019, Lake spoke with People again about the profound effect her second husband's death had on her. "I got to experience true depression. There were days when I couldn't get out of bed, and that is a very scary place to be," she revealed. "I'm such a positive person, and to not feel like that was paralyzing."

With the support of therapy, family, and friends, and with her for bringing awareness to bipolar disorder, Lake eventually began to heal, but she will likely never fully recover from the devastating loss. "I will mourn the loss of Christian's beautiful soul every day of my life," she said.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The star's struggle with hair loss

Fans of Ricki Lake have likely seen her sporting a shaved head in recent years. The look was not merely a fashion statement, but rather a response to Lake's ongoing struggles with hair loss. In 2020, the actor and talk show host got vulnerable in a lengthy Instagram post in which she explained to fans that she had been dealing with hair loss for 30 years.

Lake spoke about how bleaching her hair for her role in "Hairspray" did a lot of damage that her scalp never fully recovered from. She also blamed dieting, hormones, pregnancies, stress, and genetics for her hair loss. Lake wrote about the emotional toll it had taken on her, posting, "It has been debilitating, embarrassing, painful, scary, depressing, lonely, all the things ...There have been a few times where I have even felt suicidal over it."

In 2022, Lake opened up to ET about coming to terms with her condition. "Like, coming out and telling my secret and laying it all out there and accepting myself, you know, bald, if I'm going to have to have a shaved head and rock that for the rest of my life," she explained. "It was coming to this place of, 'I'm okay.'"

Her issues with her weight

Ricki Lake has had issues with her weight since she was a child. Fans of Lake will remember that her character's weight in "Hairspray" was part of the movie's plotline. The fact that Tracy Turnblad was a bigger girl was celebrated; she won a spot as a featured dancer on the fictional "The Corny Collins Show" and won the affections of heartthrob Link Larkin. Not in spite of her size, but because of it. Yet the reason Ricki Lake had weight issues stemmed from a very dark place, and the actor struggled throughout her career with yo-yo dieting and low self-esteem.

In Lake's memoir, she connected her weight gain to the sexual abuse she endured as a child. She wrote, "Some people say that packing on the pounds can suffocate your sexuality, and this was certainly true for me ... I believe the reason I wanted to feel that way was to block out what Joe had done to me when I was a child."

It's a heartbreaking revelation, but Lake's bravery in speaking out is admirable, to say the least. For the record, Lake seems to have done the work necessary to face and overcome adversity, and she is now living her best life. In 2022, she married Ross Burningham, and she seems at peace with her appearance and with the losses she has suffered. We are rooting for Ricki Lake to keep living life to the fullest. She certainly deserves some joy.