Watch CBS News

Members of the hit-making group "TLC" on their enduring legacy

Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas has the same passion for the music and moves that made TLC an award-winning powerhouse in the '90s.

Chilli, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes scored their first No. 1 hit with 1994's "Creep."

Their second chart-topper — 1995's "Waterfalls" — was a cautionary tale about steering away from self-destructive behavior. It was also the first No. 1 single to address the AIDS crisis and the danger of unprotected sex.  

The song still resonates with fans. Chilli, now 53, recalled an encounter with a fan in a grocery store: "I was like, you can come and talk to me. She was in tears already. She was like, 'I just want to tell you that your song "Waterfalls" saved my life. I was contemplating suicide.' And then she had me crying and I hugged her, you know? And I was so thankful that our body of work was affecting people in the most positive way."

The trio continued pushing the envelope, clipping condoms to their clothes, while Lopes taped one to her glasses. "It wasn't a gimmick or anything like that," said Chilli. "We felt that from our hearts, especially during those times when the AIDS was just out of control. … No one was talking about it. This was our way to say, 'Hey, this little thing here can save your life.'"

Their hit parade led to magazine covers. But as "No Scrubs" topped the charts in 1999, Chilli said the group felt snubbed when Eminem got the spot they wanted: the cover of Rolling Stone. "That hurt my feelings," she said. "I was, like, so excited because I'm thinking that it's going to happen. And we were told that the last time someone of color was on the cover, it didn't sell well. But look at these numbers – who do you think is buying our stuff?"

But one magazine cover blew up.


The headline ("TLC fires it up – Burning up the charts, burning down the house"), and the outfits provided by Vibe, referenced an incident between Left Eye and her boyfriend, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison. They had a volatile relationship. In June 1994, Lopes intentionally set fire to his sneakers, which led to accidentally burning down his house. She was charged with felony arson. "I grabbed the fireman uniform," said Chilli. "I was like, 'We got to wear this!' And they were like, 'Yeah, it looks so good!' And that was the cover."

The group's personal and professional lives are now profiled in a new documentary on Lifetime, "TLC Forever." The film delves in T-Boz's lifelong battle with sickle cell anemia, and the removal of a brain tumor in 2009.

T-Boz was asked how she dealt with her health struggles amid a rigorous schedule. "It has to be God or something," she replied, "because honestly, sometimes I don't even know myself. I have tunnel vision and I just lock in, like, you know what I'm saying? Like a lion, and go out there. I'm a warrior. I'm going to rejoice and be like, you know what? I'm standing here and I'm going to fight whatever battles I got to fight to get through it."

Domination on mainstream radio may have been a distraction from the medical bills and the fire. But poorly-structured recording contracts led the group to file for bankruptcy in 1995; they were $3.5 million in debt. At the same time, they won two of their four Grammys. During a press conference at the awards ceremony that year, Lopes said, "Trust me: you can sell 10 million albums and still be broke, if you have greedy people behind you."

Then, in 2002 tragedy struck, when Lopes died in a car crash in Honduras.

When asked how she wanted people to think of Lopes, Chilli said, "A creative, beautiful butterfly. Talk about someone with wings. You know, that girl could really fly."

Chilli and T-Boz have continued performing, including taking the stage last year at Glastonbury's music festival. "Talk about bucket list; I think that was probably the best moment I've ever felt on stage," Chilli said.

TLC is headlining a new tour this summer with Shaggy, called "Hot Summer Nights" – an opportunity to extend their legacy to a new generation.

The documentary "TLC Forever" can be streamed on Lifetime and at To watch a trailer click on the video player below:

Official Promo | TLC Forever | June 3, 2023 | Lifetime by TLC on YouTube
View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.