Spotlight | Natasha Lyonne’s New Shot at the Spotlight

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In the early 2000s Natasha Lyonne was a former movie celebrity and actress prodigy, deeply addicted to alcohol and heroin. She didn’t seem to have any future. But she did.

Read her story – it’s one with a happy ending.

Lyonne’s initial success

Lyonne’s first big role was in Woody Allen’s musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You (1996). Still, from the ’90s we best remember her comedy film performances such as American Pie (1999) and But I’m A Cheerleader (1999). She starred in the latter, playing a high school cheerleader, who is suspected of homosexuality and forced to a conversion therapy camp. You have to love the absurd scene where she bursts in tears and wails ”I’m a homosexual, I’m a homosexual!”

Then everything went awry

Unfortunately, Lyonne’s promising career came quickly crashing down. In the 2000s she was reportedly wandering the streets of New York unwashed, milking her fans to get money for the next dose. She got caught for drunk driving and was kicked out of her rental apartment after trashing it.

For years Lyonne’s physical and mental health deteriorated, until by 2008 she had suffered a heart infection, collapsed lung and long periods of homelessness on the streets of New York. She went into treatment to get rid of her addictions and indeed got back on her two feet.

In 2012 Lyonne even gave up cigarettes after going through a successful open-heart surgery.

Her health, sanity and career now revived, Lyonne is working again in both films and television, and continuing her work for greater acceptance of sexual minorities.

New career: Orange is the New Black and G.B.F.

In the 2013 movie G.B.F. (= Gay Best Friends) Lyonne was cast as a teacher who tries to make her students understand that it’s OK to be gay.

Still, you might know Natasha Lyonne better as the witty lesbian inmate Nicky Nichols of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. It is not a coincidence that the character is a former junkie who has gone through an open-heart surgery…

With all these lesbian and deviant characters under her belt, it is almost a surprise that Lyonne is not into girls. She does humorously invite her gay friends to hit on her, though. Keep that in mind if you ever get to befriend her.


Photo by Annabel Mehran

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