Thousands of fans, friends, family and fellow artists jammed a suburban Atlanta church Thursday to pay their last respects to the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, the TLC member who was killed in a car crash in Honduras one week ago.
The funeral, held at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, was open to the public, and by the time the casket arrived around 11:15 a.m., it was overflowing with an estimated 10,000 people.
Among those coming to grieve were Lopes' family, surviving TLC-ers Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas (with R&B crooner Usher) and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins (accompanied by her husband, rapper Mack-10), and a who's-who of Lopes' contemporaries in the music world.
Mourners included Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Janet Jackson with So So Def label head Jermaine Dupri, Grammy-winner Alicia Keys (on crutches after injuring her ankle), rap star Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Monica, Tha Row founder Marion "Suge" Knight, Arista Records chief Antonio "L.A." Reid, TLC producer Dallas Austin and R&B trio Blaque.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that tearful fans began lining up as early as 7 a.m. to attend the noon-time funeral.
"I love her, and we're going to miss her," 19-year-old New Jersey native Nicole Kern told the newspaper. "But we're not going to say goodbye because she's still here through her music, through us, her bandmates and her mom."
Kern drove down from North Carolina to attend the service with a friend.
After patiently waiting for Atlanta police and private security to wave them past with metal detection wands, thousands of mourners made their way into the sanctuary and were greeted with TLC tunes and gospel music by Yolanda Adams.
Candelabras adorned the altar next to large flower arrangements, one of which had red letters reading "Left Eye," while two giant video screens hovered in the background. Engraved on Lopes' casket was a line from the Grammy-winning R&B trio's best known hit, "Waterfalls": "Dreams are hopeless aspirations in hopes of coming true/believe in yourself/the rest is up to me and you."
The funeral got underway a little after noon with a performance of "Hosanna," after which Bishop Eddie Long said the service would be a celebration.
"It would be a mockery of her life if we didn't celebrate," Long told the audience, according to the Constitution. "And so we come to celebrate with this family."
The gospel duo Mary Mary then sang the hymn "Shackles (Praise You)," while friends and family members took the podium to look back on Lopes' life. Arista mogul L.A. Reid remembered a woman with boundless energy who, although difficult at times, was always a very caring person.
"She was difficult for the right reasons," he said. "[She] was a wonderful person, she was a giving person. And the creativity never stopped."
Her aunt spoke of Lopes as a "lionhearted little lamb," who "was at once worldly and streetwise but sweet and loving."
Lopes' brother Ronald, who was with her when she died, recalled before the assembly how he was "holding her head and her hand waiting for the first signal of a pulse."
"I just kept hearing Lisa in my head: 'Energy doesn't die, it just transforms,'" he added.
Then subtly addressing the way she was constantly assailed in the press, he spoke about how much his sister worked to better herself spiritually, resulting in her trips to Honduras, where she eventually adopted a 10-year-old girl.
"She had an understanding of life," her brother said. "She knew the essence of living. She cleansed her body. She cleansed her mind. She had clear thoughts and that's what comforts me now."
Thursday's funeral was preceded by a private wake Wednesday night in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur for family and close friends.
Among those attending that service was Andre Rison, the former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver who had an on-again, off-again relationship with Lopes that included her setting fire to his mansion in 1994 (she later pleaded guilty and admitted the two had an argument). Following the wake, he told local station WSB-TV the Philadephia native's legacy will live on.
"She was my heart," an emotional Rison said. "We're going to let her fly with wings like angels do. She's truly and definitely an angel."
The pair had as recently as last year reconciled and announced plans to marry, but weren't dating at the time of her accident.
As for the future of TLC, their publicist said both T-Boz and Chilli have no intention of replacing Lopes, but they did say they hoped to continue performing and making music. In memory of their sister, the surviving members plan to include four or five unreleased tracks by Left Eye on TLC's upcoming album.
The disc will be dedicated to her and also include the name Lopes had given the record before she died, which has not yet been disclosed.