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Daytime talk-show diva Ricki Lake first shot to fame in 1988 as the overweight star of the cult hit, ?Hairspray.? A member of director John Waters, repertory company of players, Lake appeared in several of the filmmaker's subsequent films, including ?Cry-Baby? (1990),?Serial Mom? (1994) and ?Cecil B. Demented? (2000). Lake's greatest claim to fame, however, came later on the small screen, as the host of her daytime gabfest, the eponymous ? and occasionally, infamous ??Ricki Lake? (syndicated, 1993-2004) talk show.
Ricki Pamela Lake was born on Sept. 21, 1968 in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. Showing an early aptitude for performing, Lake was enrolled at New York's Professional Children's School in her early teens, taking singing and acting classes. After high school, Lake attended Ithaca College for two semesters, but took a leave of absence after her freshman year to pursue acting full time. After struggling for a year as a cabaret singer and bit stage actor, Lake got her big break in 1987 when she won the lead role in the John Waters, musical comedy, "Hairspray" (1988). Lake's winning performance as overweight underdog Tracy Turnblad won over audiences and garnered her critical praise. The most accessible of Waters, eccentric celluloid opuses, ?Hairspray? was a modest hit, grossing about $6.5 million. In addition, Lake's performance earned her a 1988 Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actress.
While her zaftig frame precluded her from playing ing?nue roles, Lake's charm and natural likeability made her a popular offbeat casting choice. In 1989, Lake landed a regular role as Red Cross volunteer Holly Pelegrino on the acclaimed drama ?China Beach? (ABC, 1988-1991). Despite some early triumphs, however, Lake eventually hit an invisible wall. By the early nineties, Lake's weight had ballooned to more than 260 pounds and sure enough, the offers began to dry up. Realizing that her extra poundage would always define her in weight-conscious Hollywood, Lake finally decided to take matters into her own hands and underwent an arduous weight-loss regimen, losing over 120 pounds over the course of six months. Consequently, it was a slimmer, svelte, more confident Ricki Lake who re-emerged to lead the charge into the burgeoning battlefield of the daytime talk-show wars.
In 1993, Lake signed with Sony Television to develop a new talk show geared toward a younger, hipper, more urban demographic. Taped in New York before a studio audience, ?Ricki Lake? premiered on Sept. 13, 1993 and became an immediate sensation. Decidedly more salacious than ?The Oprah Winfrey Show? (syndicated, 1986- ), Lake's show often skewed toward the sensationalistic and dysfunctional, in terms of subject matter. Critics may have balked, but the formula worked. ?Ricki? became the fastest-growing talk show in TV history, averaging, at its peak, about 14.5 million viewers a day. The show also earned Lake a Daytime Emmy nod for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 1994.
In 1996, Lake returned to the big screen to star in the romantic comedy ?Mrs. Winterbourne,? opposite Shirley Maclaine and Brendan Fraser. The film flopped at the box office, but kept Lake on Hollywood's radar. In addition, Lake's regular appearances in John Waters, follow-up flicks like "Serial Mom" (1994), in which she was cast as one of Kathleen Turner's children, and landing a featured role in his paean to guerrilla filmmaking, "Cecil B. Demented" (2000), helped her keep a degree of indie credibility. In the fall of 2000, Lake joined the cast of the CBS sitcom "The King of Queens" in the recurring part of the sister of Kevin James, title character. In 2002, Lake joined a star-studded stage production of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" while continuing her talk show hosting duties. Though ratings for her show remained reasonably strong after a decade, the ?Ricki? show was beginning to show its age. Lake, in particular, seemed ready to move on. Finally ? citing a desire to spend more time with her family ? Lake did what many had expected and announced that she would pull the plug on her talk show following the 2003-04 season.
In October 2005, Broadcasting and Cable reported that Lake was close to signing a deal to host a new talk show similar to her first, but with more ?mature themes.? Though this project never came to pass, Lake did make a television comeback in 2006, as host of the US version of "Game Show Marathon" (CBS, 2006- ) ? a remake of the hit U.K. celebrity Q&A program, ?Ant & Dec's Game Show Marathon? (ITV, 2005- ).
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