A true renaissance woman, Jennifer Lopez – also known to her fans as J.Lo – wears a number of artistic hats: actress, singer, dancer, producer, and businesswoman. First known to a select audience for her dancing role on In Living Color, she would later burst onto the mainstream stage as a result of her role in the 1997 biopic portrayal of tragic Latin pop icon Selena – a role for which she received a Golden Globe nomination.
She would eventually become known among the mainstream music pop audience when she became one of the major artists in the Latin crossover of the late 1990s. Whether it has been through dance, movies, or music, Lopez has been stealing our hearts for nearly four decades! But who was she before the fame, and how has fame changed the trajectory of her life? We’ve all the details of her path – good, bad, and the ugly.
Jenny From The Block
Born Jennifer Lynn Lopez, “Jenny From the Block” – as she would become known through her popular anthem – was born in the Bronx, New York, on July 24, 1969. Her parents, Guadalupe Rodríguez and David López, were both of Puerto Rican descent and worked as a homemaker and a laborer at the Guardian Insurance Company.
Lopez, like many of her working-class neighbors, lived in a small apartment in the Castle Hill neighborhood in the South Bronx in New York City. Though eventually, her parents saved enough money to buy a two-story house. Her parents had always stressed the importance of possessing a strong work ethic, and they encouraged their daughters (one of whom is also a journalist) to stay committed to what they loved.
As a child, Lopez remembers her parents encouraging her and her sisters to put on performances for many of their visiting family and friends so that they could – in part – avoid getting in trouble. Her sisters Leslie and Lynda admit that even though Lopez was the middle child, she was always the “ringleader” in their performances. On The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2002, Lynda admitted:
“Anything that was concocted, it was usually her idea.”
As a young child, Lopez attended Catholic schools and participated in a number of artistic and athletic activities – gymnastics, track and field, softball, and musical theatre. Not only was she a great athlete – who got the chance to compete in national championships – but she was also strong academically.
Like a lot of triple threat entertainers, Lopez started out performing as a child, and later in musical theater as a young teen. In her last year of high school attendance, Lopez would make her film debut at age 16 in the little-seen 1986 film My Little Girl after learning about a film casting that was seeking several teenage girls for small roles. In the film, Lopez played Myra, a young woman at a center for troubled girls.
This would be the role that inspired her to pursue the possibilities of becoming a movie star. Her parents, however, were worried about whether she could succeed – so much so that they insisted that it wasn’t a smart idea and that most Latinos didn’t pursue this sort of career, so she decided to enroll in Baruch College to ease their worries. A semester later, however, she dropped out.
She would then go on to star in a number of musical theatre performances like Jesus Christ Superstar and Oklahoma! which took her on tour across the globe. She would eventually leave that position and get a job as a dancer, singer, and choreographer on the Japanese show Synchronicity. Once Lopez returned to the US, she was selected as a backup dancer for pop boy band New Kids on the Block for their 1991 American Music Awards. But perhaps her most important gig at the time was being asked to join the cast of In Living Color – a sketch comedy TV show – where she danced as one of the series’ “fly girls.”
Out of the 2,000 people who applied for the job, Lopez (a runner-up) was hired when the winner, who was not Lopez, was unable to accept the job. The job required that Lopez move to Los Angeles. She remained in the role for approximately two years, at which point she decided to briefly work as a backup dancer for Janet Jackson’s World Tour in late 1993, and then to pursue her film career full-time. In a 2001 Vibe interview, Janet Jackson admitted:
“She was supposed to do the whole…tour, but she only did the ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’ video. Then she called and said she wanted out because she wanted to do her own thing.”
Lopez’s initial film career featured mostly direct-to-video films such as Lost in the Wild (1993), Blood and Wine (1996), and television series such as Second Chances.
In March 1997, Lopez made her most important screen performance to date in the title role of Selena, a biopic about Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla who had been allegedly killed by a fan. Despite having previously worked with the film’s lead director, Lopez had to endure an intense audition process before the director would cast her in the lead role.
After seeing her performance in Selena, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times said that in the film, Lopez:
“Seized the opportunity and turned in an incandescent presentation that is especially strong during the film’s numerous musical numbers.”
Like Turan, many filmgoers agreed that Lopez’s performance was strong, and it encouraged many audience members, even those who were not familiar with Selena Quintanilla’s work, to celebrate the singer’s life. According to the press, Lopez was reportedly paid $1 million dollars to play the role – making her the highest-paid Hispanic actress in the history of the film business at the time.
Lopez claimed that the role was so important to her – especially in terms of her desire to explore her Latin identity. After filming, she admitted that she was: “really feeling [her] Latin roots.” This feeling led her to begin exploring her identity through music – she decided to cut a demo in Spanish.
The recording, “Vivir Sin Ti” (Living without You),” which was sent to Sony Music Entertainment’s Work Group by Lopez’s manager, immediately caught their eyes and ears. And yet, while the label was interested in Lopez, Tommy Mottola, the head of the label at the time, suggested that it might be a better idea if Lopez sang in English instead.
In a 1999 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lopez also admitted that she got the itch to pursue a music career after performing in the film’s concert scenes. She recalled that while she did Selena, she was mesmerized by the interaction with fans and the public. This was something, she admitted, that actors don’t tend to experience while on set or on the red carpet. This was also something that she really missed.
While Lopez began working on her music career, she also starred in a number of films, including the horror film Anaconda alongside Ice Cube and Jon Voight, the horror film The Cell alongside Vince Vaughn, crime film U-Turn alongside Sean Penn and Billy Bob Thornton, and Out of Sight opposite George Clooney. Her green Versace dress at the Grammy Awards in 2000 “broke the Internet” before that was even a thing!
Latin Pop Queen
By 1999, Jennifer Lopez’s pop career was on the rise with her debut single, “If You Had My Love.” The single, which was featured on her debut album On the 6, was a tribute to her native Bronx. At the time, Lopez knew that many would assume that she gained a recording contract as a result of her good looks and her existing place in the entertainment industry. To counter that, she worked really hard to prove that she had legitimate musical talent and belongs in the world of pop music. Some in the industry also feared that if Lopez’s album was not successful, it could damage her current acting career.
As she continued to release single after single from the record, many critics became fascinated by Lopez’s talent, particularly because she had so many different talents. In the first half of the 2000s, Lopez released three additional albums: J.Lo (2001), This Is Me… Then (2002), and Rebirth (2005) – each one being a successful album in their own right.
Lights, Camera, Action
Aside from her recording career, Lopez was still involved in the film – though she was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the pace of her career. While filming for her 2002 thriller Enough, Lopez experienced a nervous breakdown of sorts. In a 2008 interview with The Daily Beast, she recalled that it was approximately five in the afternoon while she was sitting in her movie trailer. She remembers telling Arlene, who was her assistant at the time, that she was not feeling well and needed to go home. She was afraid to admit it – but she was not in the best health. She kept claiming that she was not weak. Even though she was driven to a doctor and prescribed medication, she refused to take it. She remembers that the director told her to rest for the weekend and then return back to set on Monday. He feared that if she stayed home for too long, she might get anxious. So, she followed his suggestion instead of doing what she should have, which was to visit a therapist.
She continued working that year, also launching her first fragrance, Glow by JLo. Not only did her perfume become the top-selling fragrance in the US, some critics argued that Lopez was to be thanked for kickstarting the entire celebrity fragrance industry – which had been relatively still since Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds in 1991.
Lopez’s music and film career has shown no signs of slowing down since the mid-2000s, releasing four albums, including one Spanish language album, – Como Ama una Mujer (2007), Brave (2007), Love? (2011), A.K.A. (2014) – and she has been featured as the star performer in three concert residencies and in one co-headlining tour with her then-husband, Marc Anthony. Some of her best songs and music videos include All I Have, I’m Real featuring Ja Rule, Limitless, Waiting for Tonight, On the Floor featuring rapper Pitbull.
Lopez’s film career also continued to gain traction as well. Not only did take on roles in thrillers, dramas, and comedies like The Boy Next Door, but she came to be one of Hollywood’s leading ladies in a number of rom-coms such as Maid in Manhattan, The Wedding Planner, Gigli, Shall We Dance?, Monster-In-Law, The Back-Up Plan, and Second Act among others. She has also been a judge World of Dance and American Idol after the departure of Ellen Degeneres. She recently appeared in the movie “Hustlers” alongside Cardi B and even acts in the NBC crime series “Shades of Blue.” Her biggest recent appearance was at the Super Bowl Halftime Show in Miami alongside Shakira.
Perhaps one of the projects closest to her heart was when she starred alongside her then-husband Marc Anthony in El Cantante, the 2007 biopic about the life of late salsa singer Hector Lavoe. In an interview with Latina in 2010, Lopez confided that she felt like she should have won an Oscar for her role. She admits that while the Oscars were on that year, she had just given birth. As she was sitting there watching television next to her twin children, she couldn’t help but feel disappointed even though the birth of her children should have had her feeling like she was on top of the world.
Love Don’t Cost A Thing
Aside from her tremendous music, film, and dance career, Lopez also draws a lot of intrigue based on her personal life – that is, her romantic life to be most specific. Often likened to Elizabeth Taylor as a result of her many failed relationships, Lopez has been married a total of three times and engaged five times.
Her first marriage on February 22, 1997, was to Ojani Noa, a Cuban waiter. While their marriage was brief – that is, less than a year – the press has often framed Noa as a “thorn” in Lopez’s side who just doesn’t seem to go away. Noa has been known to get involved in a lawsuit with Lopez for threatening to publish an unsolicited book about their marriage.
A year following the case, a court-appointed arbitrator issued a permanent injunction that forbade Noa from criticizing or casting Lopez in a negative light.
Among Lopez’s other famous suitors are rap music mogul Diddy or Sean Combs, actor Ben Affleck (who also proposed), former husband Marc Anthony (with whom she shares two children, twins Max and Emme), and current beau, baseball star Alex Rodriguez. In 2019, A-Rod proposed to Lopez and they primarily live in Malibu — nearby her close friend and mentee, Kim Kardashian.
From TV and movies to music and dance, Jennifer Lopez is whose career continues to never bring forth a dull moment and is always in living coloring.