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For years, Ricki Lake connected with a generation of fans on her eponymous daytime talk show largely in part because she remained authentic, not only with her audience but also with herself. So, imagine how she felt for decades hiding her hair loss secret. Two years since opening up about the ordeal, Lake tells ET she's never been more content or happy in her life.
Lake, who celebrates turning 54 on Wednesday, opened up to ET's Nischelle Turner about accepting her hair loss and the journey she navigated to reach that point. The actress and TV host penned an emotional social media post on New Year's Day 2020 and revealed she had been suffering from hair loss for the better part of three decades. She added that not even her therapists knew the truth.
"It was something I hid for a long, long time," she tells ET. "And it ate at me. It really, really bothered me, because I really pride myself on being super authentic. What you see is what you get. And I think that's what makes it so easy for me to be a talk show host. I'm not pretending to be anything but myself. I've gone through a lot."
Like losing her late husband, the jewelry designer Christian Evans. She was married to him from 2012 to 2015. He tragically died by suicide in 2017.
"I mean, losing my partner, my husband Christian, now five and a half years ago. I mean, that was the darkest time for me," she said. "And I got so much strength from sharing my journey and my story from people who had gone through it. So it's not a conscious thing. I have to be exactly who I am. I've gotten through it. I've really come a long way from where I've been.
"And honestly, I've never been more content or happy in my life," she continued. "I think losing Christian to bipolar and suicide and going through that loss, like the way he loved me and losing him, I now love myself the way he loved me. It's like I've come to this place of self-acceptance and self-love through that relationship and losing him."
She adds that losing her hair and the physical transformation was something she really had to internalize.
"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 said. "It was coming to this place of, 'I'm okay.' And that has brought me to where I am, where I think I valued myself in a way I hadn't before."
Just last month, Lake, who married lawyer Ross Burningham earlier this year, shared stunning and dramatic transformation photos amid her battle with hair loss. The side-by-side photos show her shaved head next to a full, healthy-looking salt-and-pepper coif. The buzzed head photo is from December 2019, while the follow-up shot was taken in January 2021.
"And I don't have the thickest hair on the block or anything, but my hair is healthy," Lake tells ET. "I don't stress about it. I don't really think about it anymore. And it's something that consumed me so much. Every time I looked in the mirror when I was going through this, and wearing the extensions, and, 'Oh, could they see that they were fake?' And it would pull, it would hurt, and I'd wear a hat. I mean, just, it was my inner battle and I know it seems superficial to people."
Lake previously shared that a number of factors led to the hair loss, but it first began when she starred in Hairspray.
"Ever since I played Tracy Turnblad in the original Hairspray back in 1988 and they triple-processed and teased my then healthy virgin hair every two weeks during filming, my hair was never the same. (Yes, that was all my own hair in the film.)," she explained in her New Year's Day 2020 post. "From Hairspray to Hairless. In my case, I believe my hair loss was due to many factors, yo-yo dieting, hormonal birth control, radical weight fluctuations over the years, my pregnancies, genetics, stress, and hair dyes and extensions. Working as talent on various shows and movies, whether [Dancing With the Stars] or my talk show, also took its toll on my fine hair."
Looking forward, Lake beams at the idea of hosting her own podcast, Raised by Ricki, with The Ellen DeGeneres Show alum Kalen Allen. In the podcast, Lake will reexamine her show that ran for 11 glorious seasons. It undoubtedly etched its name in pop culture lore, what with pioneering the DNA test results segments on her show before Maury Povich popularized it on his, and having some of daytime TV's most memorable guests, including the wig snatcher.
Lake was only 24 when she was handed the mic, and never in a million years did she think it'd blow up the way it did.
"No, I didn't think it was going to be this big huge hit. I never have anticipated any of my success, nor have I calculated the next move," she said. "Hairspray came along. Okay, I can be Tracy Turnblad. They handed me a talk show. I loved talk shows back then. I was Oprah, Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy. I was an avid watcher. So I was like, 'Okay, I'll just channel Oprah.' But I think as I stepped into the role... I'm curious about people. I love gossip, I love relationships. I love what makes people tick. And so it was that natural curiosity and being a good listener, being candid with my own triumphs and issues and really just being groomed. I don't know, being brought up through the stages and just getting really comfortable in that role. I'm most comfortable being myself much more so than being an actress."
Lake will also have special guests and also open up about her life on the podcast. Rosie O'Donnell was her first guest when the podcast kicked off last week. Andy Cohen, a friend for nearly 30 years, joins episode 2 when it streams Thursday.
But her dream guest? Oprah Winfrey.
"I mean, why not?" she quipped. "I think we're going to ask. Kalen has big pipe dreams. I'm like, 'She's never going to do our podcast.' But never say never. Never say never."
New episodes of Raised by Ricki stream weekly on Lemonada Media or anywhere you can get your podcasts.
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