The Untold Truth Of Ricki Lake

Ricki Lake's career arc has been pretty unorthodox, to say the least. What began as a grade-school itch to get on stage blossomed into an over 30-year acting career, marred somewhat by struggles with weight, belligerent talk show guests, toxic criticism, and tragic loss.

Through it all, however, Lake has remained in good spirits. While speaking often about showbiz in the media, not only about the challenges she's faced throughout her on-screen career, but also about how fortunate she's actually been in Tinseltown, the actress has expressed the desire to help others by paying it forward. This former '90s talk show host is a cult icon, as well, who became a household name after appearing in Hairspray at just 19 years old. The movie star's life, ultimately, has been more upside than down and not without its fair share of bizarre moments. We bring you the untold truth of Ricki Lake.

Ricki Lake lost her virginity on set

Even though Ricki Lake's biggest film role was as Tracy Turnblad in John Waters' 1988 musical, Hairspray, it was her appearance in Waters' 1990 movie Cry-Baby, that cemented Lake's status as a cult icon. In Cry-Baby — a rockabilly musical that's equal parts Grease and The Rocky Horror Picture Show — a rebellious group of grimy teens called "Drapes" (led by Johnny Depp's Cry-Baby) rally against a group of "squares." A 22-year-old Lake plays Pepper Walker, the loud-mouthed, leather-clad sister of Cry-Baby.

In a blog post interview with Bravo's Andy Cohen, Lake revealed that she lost her virginity while filming Cry-Baby. "I lost my virginity on the set ... I'm not gonna give his name because he went on to have some success. I was definitely not his first, I know that. It was a positive experience, and of course it made the making of the movie so positive for me. Everyone on set knew — from Johnny Depp on down. They were like: 'Thank God for Ricki! She can go on and do something else now.'" 

To that point, fans were left to speculate if the actress had slept with one of the actors or perhaps somebody in production. But during a 2018 appearance on Watch What Happens Live, Lake made it clear it was "a really handsome actor," but not Johnny Depp.

Her controversial documentary

These days, Ricki Lake spends more of her time behind the camera, directing documentaries with her friend and producing partner, Abbey Epstein. Her 2008 documentary, The Business of Being Born, which Lake produced and Epstein directed, emphasizes the value of home births and is critical of the American healthcare system, which the film asserts is designed to treat childbirth as a medical emergency. In a review for The New York Times, critic Stephen Holden writes, "The statistics cited in the film suggest that the revolution in childbirth from home to hospital was spurred by technology, which increasingly turned it into a surgical procedure involving multiple, often unnecessary interventions. In 1900 95 percent of births in the United States took place at home. By 1938 the number had shrunk to half. Today the number is less than 1 percent."

The film and its message were largely well received, though Lake's next documentary, Sweetening the Pill, about the dangers of hormonal birth control, was greeted with considerable criticism. Dr. Amy Tuteur, an OBGYN, penned an article for Time magazine, saying that Lake is wrong to fight against what Tuteur considers "the greatest source of women's empowerment of all time." She chalks Lake's naiveté up to the fact that the actress is "part of a natural parenting movement that is anti-hospital birth, anti-epidural and anti-formula — technological innovations that have made the legal, political and especially the economic liberation of women possible."

Ricki Lake's troubles on TV

When Ricki Lake began her daytime talk show in 1993, she was only in her mid-20s. Over the course of its run, a variety of guests represented an array of different beliefs and subcultures. In an interview with News.com.au, Lake recalled speaking with a reverend named Fred Phelps: "He was this disgusting reverend that would picket at people's funerals — people that had died of AIDS ... I just lost it. I said: 'You know, you may be a reverend but this is still my show, get out!' I was shaking, I was so upset." 

Lake eventually got the hang of the show's format and continued to pursue open conversation about sensitive topics. For the most part, it was her guests who caught the most flack, but halfway through her first year, Lake was on the receiving end of public criticism following an episode titled, "I'm Angry Because People Think I'm Gay." According to Entertainment Weekly, "After the show, one audience member, who had identified himself as a homosexual during the taping, was attacked while waiting for an elevator. 'It was out of control,' says one of the participants ... who believes that the situation could have been avoided had the ratio of gay to straight people on the panel (two of the 13 were gay) been more balanced." Another guest added, "When I said that I was gay-bashed, the audience cheered ... [Lake] didn't respond at all to what was going on."

Married for the first time

Ricki Lake has been married and divorced twice. Her first husband, Rob Sussman, an illustrator who has worked for The New York Times, The Nation, and LA Weekly, voiced concerns when he married Lake in 1994 that his modest salary would put him in a submissive role under his then-recently famous and successful wife. He told People magazine that year that being supported by Lake "seems really unhealthy and emasculating ... I don't want to become Mr. Ricki Lake." 

He and Lake share two sons together, Milo and Owen, the latter of whom's birth was dramatically captured in Lake's 2008 documentary, The Business of Being Born. However, when the couple filed for legal separation in 2003, People pointed out that one former Lake associate was not surprised and cited the wage gap as an alleged returning struggle for the couple, who reportedly began attending couple's therapy soon after they tied the knot. Just before they filed for separation, the pair moved into a $6.5 million home in Los Angeles, where Sussman, according to his own website, still lives.

The death of Lake's second husband

Ricki Lake's second ex-husband, Christian Evans, died from an apparent suicide in 2017 after a long battle with bipolar disorder. The jewelry designer was found in his car with a self-inflicted gunshot wound 48 hours after emailing a suicide note to his sister, People confirmed. He was 45.

The pair began dating in 2010 and tied the knot in 2012. "He was the funniest person," Lake said of Evans, who was open about his bipolar from the beginning. "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." Things went smoothly to begin with, but the marriage suddenly became strained in 2014 when Evans had a manic episode, something Lake had yet to witness. "[He] thought he could fly," she recalled. "He thought he could cure cancer with his hands. It was horrific. He just wasn't the person I had been with for four years."

Evans was ultimately hospitalized, and a therapist advised Lake to end all contact with him until he got better. The couple finalized a divorce in 2015, but reconciled and moved back in together after Evans was released. "I was still in love with him, so there was something romantic about it," Lake said. "I wanted to save him."

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

Ricki Lake was abused as a child

In 2009, Ricki Lake released a book titled, Your Best Birth: Know All Your Options, Discover the Natural Choices, and Take Back the Birth Experience, with co-author Abbey Epstein. The book more or less follows the anti-hospital birth principles laid out in the duo's documentary, The Business of Being Born. However, as Access Hollywood examined that May, chapter seven of the book discusses the time when, around age 6, Lake was sexually assaulted. "I'm not telling that story to sell books," Lake said in an interview with Maria Menounos. "I'm telling that story because you can feel violated. I mean one in three women are sexually assaulted in some way, so those are a lot of women that are giving birth."

Lake went on to say that past trauma, especially sexual assault, can have adverse effects later in life when a woman is giving birth. Lake, for example, does not directly equate her abuse to her body issues, but her feelings about her body certainly played a part in her decision to have her second child, Owen, at home. I think I've always been sort of modest about my body," Lake explained. "In a hospital when there's a lot of residents learning from other doctors and they're witnessing [many things] ... In my personal opinion, for my body, I felt safer at home."

She's a famous alum

However unlikely it may have seemed at the time, Ricki Lake wanted to be an actress from a very early age. At seven years old, Lake saw a production of the musical Annie, and decided then and there that she was going to be a performer. Having grown up in Hastings-On-Hudson, a well-heeled riverside town only 40 minutes north of Midtown Manhattan by train, Lake began taking classes at the prestigious Professional Children's School on the city's Upper West Side. This is the same school that lists Uma Thurman, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Diane Lane, Christian Slater, and Sarah Jessica Parker as alumni.

Lake is listed on the school's website under Distinguished Alumni. Whereas actresses like Parker and Thurman decided to forgo college to get right into acting, after attending the Professional Children's School, Lake studied at Ithaca College — located four hours north of Manhattan. She tried out for many of Ithaca's productions, but her weight made landing the roles difficult. But as it happens, Lake ran into director John Waters on campus, who was there looking for a heavier actress to play Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray.

She's struggled with weight for decades

Weight has always been an issue for Ricki Lake. She's been up, she's been down. At Ithaca College, she weighed 200 pounds, which was too heavy to get parts in the school productions, but the success of Hairspray (she was 19 when she was cast) in a way validated her size. "Being fat worked, and I think that was what was confusing for me for a long time in my career," Lake told ABC News. After Cry-Baby, around 1990, Lake was at her heaviest, weighing 260 pounds and standing only five feet, three inches tall. When she landed her role as the host of her own daytime talk show, she had lost more than 100 pounds.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey on her Where Are They Now show, Lake summed up her longstanding weight conflict, saying (via HuffPost), "I became famous for being a certain size, and I was a role model for so many young women. But I loved when I lost weight and felt good about my body. I loved telling the world!" Lake added, "At the same time, I felt like I was perpetuating this obsession that we have with weight." 

Still, life intervenes, and after she finalized her divorce with Christian Evans, Lake reportedly gained 80 pounds. These days, though, Lake is at a steady, healthy weight.

Ricki Lake's grandfather died from complications related to AIDS

Ricki Lake has been involved with many causes over the course of her career. Her documentaries tackle issues of child safety and she's prompted breast cancer awareness, but perhaps the cause closest to her heart is funding and promoting HIV/AIDS research. In the late '80s, Lake's grandfather died "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," she told CNN's Denise Quan. Lake, who was one of the faces for the #TreatmentForAll 2015 campaign, told AOL that she admired Charlie Sheen's disclosure of his battle with HIV that year, saying, "It was incredibly brave of him. It's important to know that this disease is still spreading. It's not a death sentence anymore and the stigma needs to be taken away."

Speaking with Quan, Lake also revealed a special connection to one of 2008's Top 10 CNN Heroes, Maria Da Silva, who started a school for AIDS orphans in her native country of Malawi. "Well, let me just say that I'm the one who discovered Marie. I knew!" Lake, who supports the school, said. "No, Marie was my employee; she worked as my nanny for a decade. I knew from the second Marie walked in to the interview there was something special about her. She leads her life in such a positive way that she's just a great example for me."

Ricki Lake was the Raven on The Masked Singer

In 2019, Ricki Lake was revealed as the Raven on the first season of The Masked Singer, in which celebs dress head to toe in flamboyant costumes and perform in front of a live studio audience and a panel of famous faces. The only judge to correctly guess the Raven's identity was Robin Thicke, who praised the former talk show host for all of her achievements: "When I was young and The Ricki Lake Show came on television, it was kind of revolutionary ... I was a big fan of the show." Sadly, not enough people were a fan of Lake's rendition of Sara Bareilles' "Brave" that week, which didn't get enough votes to keep her on the show.

After taking off her mask, Lake revealed that she had a deeply personal reason for choosing that particular costume. "The Raven is about metamorphosis — it's about death, but it's also about rebirth," she told host Nick Cannon. "I went through the loss of my husband last year and this really was an opportunity for me to sort of share my journey through his loss. He was the best thing that ever happened to me." 

Christian Evans' death was clearly still raw for Lake when she filmed the show, but she had physical pain to contend with, too, as she revealed to reporters that she had struggled to walk at the time thanks to a nasty bout of sciatica.

She found love again

Almost two years to the day from the death of her second husband, Ricki Lake announced that she had found love again. Speaking at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in 2019 (via People), she revealed that a mutual friend had hooked her up with a man named Jeff Scult, who described himself as a "brand story-telling specialist, amateur floet, life clothing designer and fashion proactivist" on his personal website. "My purpose," he added, "is to celebrate and elevate well-being for earth, us, and self." We're not entirely sure what that means, but we know one thing is for sure — Lake is absolutely smitten.

The former talk show host has since gushed over Scult on Instagram, and even opened up about their relationship during an appearance on the UK's Loose Women. "I believe they're very similar," Lake said of the late Christian Evans and her new beau (via Metro). "I do have a type but I do believe he wants me to find love again. He doesn't want me alone and I like to believe he has a hand in helping me find [Scult]." 

Lake, who was in England to compete on The X-Factor: Celebrity, told the panel that she would never get over losing Evans, who was very much part of her life plan. "When he died, the future I thought I had died that day," she said. "But I want people to know there is life after loss."

Hair loss left Ricki Lake feeling suicidal

On January 1, 2020, Ricki Lake shocked her fans when she posted a picture of herself rocking a dramatic new look to Instagram. The actress-turned-TV personality had given herself a buzz cut, shaving off the vast majority of her hair. In the caption, she explained that she had been struggling with hair loss for most of her adult life: "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."

Lake went on to reveal that her issues began when she took on the role of Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray. "They triple-processed and teased my then healthy virgin hair every 2 weeks during filming, my hair was never the same," she wrote, before also blaming "yo-yo dieting, hormonal birth control, radical weight fluctuations over the years, my pregnancies, genetics, stress, and hair dyes and extensions." 

Days after her big reveal, Lake appeared on Good Morning America to discuss her journey in greater detail. When asked why she thought so many women were scared to speak out about hair loss, she suggested that unrealistic standards played a part. "What is beauty?" Lake rhetorically asked. "I don't want to blame [them], but these women that we emulate, whether it's the Kardashians ... all of them are using fake hair!"

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