Traci Elizabeth Lords (born Nora Louise Kuzma on May 7, 1968) is an American actress, singer, model, writer, producer, and director. She achieved notoriety in the mid-1980s after it was discovered she had appeared underage in numerous pornographic films. Born in Steubenville, Ohio, Lords initially landed a job as a nude model at the age of fifteen using a fake driver's license. After being featured in the September 1984 issue of Penthouse magazine, she appeared in dozens of illegal videos between 1984 and 1986, and became one of the most sought-after pornographic actresses of the era. During May 1986, when authorities discovered she had been underage while making all but one of her pornographic films, distributors were ordered to remove all her material to avoid the risk of prosecution for trafficking in child pornography. The withdrawal of her films cost millions of dollars and her case became the biggest scandal to affect the adult film industry.
After her departure from pornography, Lords enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute where she studied method acting with the intention of becoming a mainstream actress. She made her screen debut in 1988 (two years after quitting porn), when she had a leading role in the remake of Roger Corman's sci-fi classic Not of This Earth. Lords followed with the role of Wanda Woodward in John Waters' teen comedy, Cry-Baby (1990). Her other acting credits include the television series MacGyver, Married... with Children, Tales from the Crypt, Roseanne, Melrose Place, Profiler, First Wave, Gilmore Girls and Will & Grace. She also appeared in films such as Virtuosity (1995), Blade (1998), Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) and most recently Excision (2012), which earned her Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as Fright Meter Award and CinEuphoria Award.
In addition to her film career, Lords also pursued music. After her song "Love Never Dies" was featured on the soundtrack to the film Pet Sematary Two (1992), she was signed to Radioactive Records and subsequently released her debut studio album, 1000 Fires (1995) to critical acclaim. Despite the poor sales of the album, the lead single "Control" had moderate commercial success. It managed to peak at number two on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart and was included on the soundtrack to the film Mortal Kombat (1995), which was eventually certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In 2003, Lords published her autobiography, Traci Lords: Underneath It All, which received positive reviews from critics and debuted at number 31 on the The New York Times Best Seller list.
Life and career
1968–83: Early life
Lords was born Nora Louise Kuzma on May 7, 1968, in Steubenville, Ohio, to Louis and Patricia Kuzma (née Briceland). Her father's parents were immigrants from Ukraine, while her mother was of Irish ancestry. Louis worked as a steelworker. Lords has one elder sister, Lorraine and two younger sisters, Rachel and Grace. Her father was an alcoholic who would abuse her mother on a regular basis. According to her, he would come home drunk and accuse her of having boyfriends in the house. During that time, Lords would often spend time with her grandmother who lived nearby. Her parents divorced when she was seven years old and Lords moved with her mother and sisters to her great-grandmother's house. Following their divorce, her father got a partial custody. Around that same time, her mother enrolled at the Ohio University and landed only a part-time job.
According to Lords, she and her sister Lorraine both developed early; this fueled their father's concerns about their sexuality. "I think my father hated women. He dealt with us until we were eleven, then he started to lay this guilt on us about sex." At the age of ten, Lords was allegedly raped by a sixteen-year-old boy who she had befriended at her friend's birthday party. When she was twelve, Lords moved with her mother and sisters to Lawndale, California, along with her mother's new boyfriend. It was the last time she saw her father. In September 1982, she began attending the Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California. During her early school years, Lords developed a rebellious attitude. She was angry at her mother, blaming her for their poverty, and found a father figure in her mother's boyfriend. Roger Hayes, as she calls him in her autobiography, was a cocaine dealer and molested Lords in her sleep. After her mother broke up with him due to his drug use, she began dating his friend. Lords refused to follow them to a new place and was left with her older sister Lorraine. Her mother and two younger sisters eventually ended up in a women's shelter until her mother was able to find a new apartment.
1984–86: Pornography career
At the age of 14, Lords became pregnant by her high school boyfriend. Afraid of her mother's reaction, she went to Hayes for help. He arranged for her to have an abortion without her mother's knowledge. Looking for a job to get some money, she was introduced to his friend for whom she started working as a babysitter. She offered to solve Lords' job problems by helping her get a fake driver's license. She provided Lords with a new birth certificate on condition that she would say she had stolen it if she was ever caught. With a new driver's license with the name Kristie Elizabeth Nussman that stated she was 22 rather than 15 years old, Lords lined up a few job interviews. In February 1984, she answered a newspaper advertisement for Jim South's World Modeling Talent Agency. Posing as her stepfather, Hayes drove her to the agency. After signing a contract, she began working as a nude model and appeared in magazines such as Velvet, Juggs, and Club. During August, when she was hired to model for Penthouse magazine, Lords was asked to choose a stage name. She chose Traci, one of the popular names she had longed for growing up and Lords, after the actor Jack Lord since she was a fan of the television series Hawaii Five-O, in which he portrayed the character of Steve McGarrett. After some of her schoolmates recognized her in the Velvet magazine pictorial, she left high school at age 15 and never went back. The September 1984 issue, for which centerfold she was paid $5,000, became the best-selling issue in the history of Penthouse, partly because it also featured a nude pictorial of Vanessa Williams, who had won the Miss America Pageant the previous year.
Lords made her first movie during October 1984, when she appeared in What Gets Me Hot! alongside Tom Byron, who later became her boyfriend off-screen. She first appeared only in a non-sex role, but was later replaced with a hardcore scene. In her next movie, Those Young Girls, she appeared alongside another female pornstar Ginger Lynn. After appearing with John Leslie in the porno parody of the movie Splash, Talk Dirty to Me Part III, which won the AVN Award for the best movie, Lords was hailed as the "Princess of Porn". She became one of the highest-paid porno actresses of that time, earning more than $1,000 a day. Besides her work in porn, she also appeared in the music video for "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'" by the heavy metal band Helix. Lords continued making more movies until the autumn of 1986, when she decided to quit the industry. Afterwards, she met Stuart Dell, who became her boyfriend, manager, and business partner. During January 1986, she announced her return to porn with the formation of TLC (the Traci Lords Company). Dell and Lords made a distribution deal with Sy Adler, an industry veteran who ran Vantage International, that they would produce three movies for the company. During March, the first TLC feature, Traci Takes Tokyo, was released. The second, Beverly Hills Copulator, was released afterwards, and the third movie, Screamer, was shelved.
During late May 1986, around three weeks after Lords' 18th birthday, authorities discovered she had been underage after having appeared in about 75 pornographic movies. The owners of her movie agency and X-Citement Video, Inc. were arrested. (See United States v. X-Citement Video) She was taken into a protective custody and hired a high-profile lawyer, Leslie Abramson. On July 10, district attorney's investigators searched Lords' Redondo Beach home, the Sun Valley offices of Vantage International Productions, a major producer of adult movies, and the Sherman Oaks offices of modeling agent Jim South. South and other industry officials said that Lords, on seeking employment, provided a California driver's license, a U.S. passport, and a birth certificate, which stated that her name was Kristie Nussman and gave a birth date of November 17, 1962. Leslie Jay, spokeswoman for Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, also said Lords showed identification indicating that she was older than 18 years of age before the illicit photos for the September 1984 issue were taken. When investigators, using her birth certificate and state identification cards, located the real Kristie Nussman, she said her birth certificate had been stolen a few years earlier and that an impostor had apparently forged her name on official forms. Two adults who knew Lords, but who requested anonymity, said they saw her picture in the adult magazine Velvet during July 1984, and telephoned the district attorney's office to inform authorities that she was underage, but that an investigator told them, "There isn't anything we can do about it."
On July 17, 1986, video rental shops and adult movie theaters in the USA were ordered to withdraw all material featuring Lords from their shelves. John Weston, attorney of the Adult Film Association of America, said distributors should withdraw any movie made before May 1986, featuring Lords "in sexual conduct, no matter how briefly". The withdrawal of Lords' movies from the market cost the industry millions of dollars. Government prosecutors declared Lords was a victim of a manipulative industry, maintaining she was drugged and made to do non-consensual acts. Industry insiders, including Ron Jeremy, Tom Byron, Peter North, and Ginger Lynn, said they never saw her use drugs and that she was always fully aware of her actions. While most of her movies were removed permanently from distribution in the United States, several were re-edited to remove Lords' scenes entirely (such as Kinky Business and New Wave Hookers), or in a few cases, had new footage filmed with a different actress playing her part (as in Talk Dirty to Me Part III). The only movie legally available in the United States was Traci, I Love You, filmed in Paris only two days after her 18th birthday. She sold her rights to Traci, I Love You during early 1987 for $100,000. This action resulted in claims that she herself had tipped off the authorities to gain immunity from prosecution, while being the only one to profit from the movie. Lords denies this notion in her autobiography and says she was reluctant to sell the rights, since at that time she was trying to become an ordinary actress, and wanted no older movies still available.
1987–91: Transition to mainstream, Not of This Earth and Cry-Baby
After spending several months in therapy, Lords decided to concentrate on acting. She enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, where she studied method acting for three months. After leaving the school, Lords placed an advertisement in The Hollywood Reporter looking for a representation. She was contacted by Fred Westheimer and although the agency refused to represent her, he decided to send her out on a few auditions. As a result, she was offered a guest role in an episode of the television series Wiseguy. Shortly afterwards, she met the director Jim Wynorski who was directing the remake of Roger Corman's 1957 sci-fi classic Not of This Earth. He immediately cast Lords into the lead role of Nadine Story and Not of This Earth (1988) became her first mainstream film debut since her departure from the adult film industry. Although, the film failed at the box office, it did well in video sales and based on the success, Lords was offered to appear in Wynorski's next film The Haunting of Morella (1989). However, Lords turned down the offer due to the requirement of having a nude scene, since she was trying to establish herself as a serious actress. She also signed with a modeling agency under her birth name Nora Kuzma and appeared on two covers of Joe Weider's magazine Muscle & Fitness. Around that time, Lords became a spokesperson for Children of the Night, an organization for runaways and abused children, and was planning to release a book entitled Out of the Blue: The Traci Lords Story.
In November 1988, Lords enrolled in another acting class and again began looking for an agent. In December, she mass-mailed her resume to various agents and arranged a meeting with Don Gerler. Lords audition for the part of Breathless Mahoney in the film Dick Tracy (1990), but the role went to Madonna. In March 1989, John Waters auditioned her for his teenage comedy musical Cry-Baby (1990). She won the audition and appeared in the film alongside Johnny Depp and Ricki Lake. The film was a critical and commercial success and her portrayal of the rebellious teenager Wanda Woodward established her as a legitimate actress. On the set of the film, she met the property master Brook Yeaton whom she began dating. The couple married in September 1990 in in Baltimore, Maryland. In June 1990, the exercise video Warm up with Traci Lords was released. Directed and produced by her former boyfriend and business partner Scott Bell (under the name Stewart Dell), the video had been already filmed in the early 1988. As Lords wrote in her autobiography, she was unsatisfied with the final version of the video. An extended version was reissued in 1993 under the title Traci Lords: Advanced Jazzthetics.
In 1991, Lords starred in the thriller Raw Nerve and the action crime film A Time to Die. Lords also pursued her modeling career. She relocated to London and began modeling for many fashion designers including Thierry Mugler.
1992–96: Breakthrough, 1000 Fires and Melrose Place
During 1992, Lords decided to emphasize her career as a recording artist. She first got signed to a development deal with Capitol Records, but was later dropped due to disagreements between her and the company. After meeting with Rodney Bingenheimer at a birthday party, she was recommended to Jeff Jacklin, who hired her to record the song "Love Never Dies" for the movie Pet Sematary Two (1992). The producer of the soundtrack, Gary Kurfirst, signed Lords to his company Radioactive Records. She was later featured on the songs "Little Baby Nothing" by Manic Street Preachers and "Somebody to Love" by Ramones. During 1993, Lords was cast in the television adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Tommyknockers.
During the spring of 1994, Lords began working on her debut album. The company arranged her to fly to London and meet with producer Tom Bailey. After finishing her recording with Bailey, Lords was introduced to producer Ben Watkins of Juno Reactor with whom she recorded more techno influenced songs. She later met Mike Edwards, the main singer of the band Jesus Jones. Around the same time, Lords was cast in the television series, Roseanne, appearing in three episodes. During January 1995, Lords appeared in four episodes of the television series Melrose Place, where she played the part of Rikki Abbott. Her debut studio album, 1000 Fires, was released on February 28, 1995. It received generally positive reviews and the lead single "Control" peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs. An instrumental version of "Control" was remixed and released on the soundtrack to Mortal Kombat (1995), which was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The album's second single, "Fallen Angel", was also successful in charts, peaking at number eleven on Hot Dance Club Songs. The Paul Oakenfold remix of the song was included on the soundtrack of the movie Virtuosity (1995), in which Lords had a cameo appearance. After the release of the album, Lords embarked on a small tour performing as a DJ, mostly in Miami nightclubs. On August 12, 1995, she was the opening act of the Lollapalooza after party, Enit Festival, alongside Moby, Sven Väth, DJ Keoki and Single Cell Orchestra.
1997–2002: Profiler, Blade and First Wave
In 1997, Lords appeared in a small part in the Gregg Araki film Nowhere, and starred in the drama thriller Stir. She also guest starred on television series Nash Bridges and Viper. In November, she became a recurring cast in the second season of the crime television series Profiler. She played a felon, Sharon Lesher, who is manipulated by a serial killer Jack-of-All-Trades and eventually becomes his partner in crime Jill-of-All-Trades. In 1998, Lords had a supporting role in the crime thriller Boogie Boy and starred in the drama Extramarital. She also appeared in the action horror film Blade (1998) in which she played the vampire seductress Racquel. Lords was eventually approached to appear in the sequel Blade II (2002) portraying Racquel's twin sister Valerine in seeking of vengeance upon Blade. However, she turned down the offer because her contradictory schedule. At the premiere of the film, Lords announced she was finishing her sophomore album on Radioactive Records that would be released in the spring of 1999. However, it was later neglected after she left the record label. In August, Lords ended her two-year relationship with John Enos after they reportedly got in an argument because her cat was killed by one of Enos' dogs.
In 2000, Lords had lead roles in the films Epicenter and Chump Change. Her role of Sam in the romantic comedy Chump Change earned her the Film Discovery Jury Award for Best Actress at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. In September, she became a regular cast in the third season of the Sci-fi Channel television series First Wave, becoming the first recurring female character to be features on the series. She played Jordan Radcliffe, an heiress and leader of the Human Resistance Group "The Raven Nation" after the aliens used her brother to murder her parents.
2003–06: Underneath It All
Her autobiography, Traci Lords: Underneath It All was published during July 2003 by HarperCollins. In the book, Lords chronicles her childhood, career and mostly her past in the porno movie industry. The book received positive reviews from critics and was a commercial success making The New York Times Best Seller list. It was criticized by porno movie industry insiders. In the book, Lords reveals that she only received $35,000 as total compensation for all her porno movies, including the $5,000 for her appearance in Penthouse. Lords continues to use the stage name she gave herself as a minor, and ultimately made it her legal name. She explained, "I chose to stop running from it. Instead, I won it, legally changing my name to Traci Elizabeth Lords. That's who I was, and that's who I was going to be." In her interview with Oprah Winfrey she stated: "I found you can run, but you cannot hide."
During 2003, it was announced that Lords was working on new music and had recorded a cover version of Missing Persons' song "Walking In L.A.". Directed by Mike Ruiz, the music video was premiered during her interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show. On December 28, 2004, she independently released two songs, "Sunshine" and "You Burn Inside of Me", via online music store CD Baby. Both of the songs along with "What Cha Gonna Do" were featured in the television series Joan of Arcadia. "You Burn Inside of Me" was also used in the commercial for Duprey Cosmetics, in which Lords appeared in.
2007–09: Motherhood and Zack and Miri Make a Porno
By the beginning of 2007, Lords became unexpectedly pregnant. She first announced her pregnancy in June: "I kind of thought the children thing was off the table. Now I’m expecting a boy! We're stunned and thrilled. I just want you to know, these 36-D's are mine. I haven’t had a boob job. I am 5 1/2 months pregnant! But now I’m starting to show. And my husband is happy with the changes in my figure." On October 7, 2007, at the age of 39, she gave birth to a son, Joseph Gunnar Lee, her first child with her husband of five years, Jeff Lee.
During January 2008, it was announced that Lords had been cast in Kevin Smith's comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008). She said that at first she wanted to refuse but changed her mind after reading the script. "It was really great that in taking the movie, because I didn't plan on going back to work right away, but I was dying to work with Kevin. I never thought it would be on something called Zack and Miri Make a Porno. What? So I went and I read the script at his house and I was prepared to say no. I thought I have the perfect out. I just had a kid. No one is going to blame me if I say I just can't do this right now. But it made me laugh out loud and it made me just literally cry. It was just funny." Initially, Lords had a topless scene in the movie, but refused since she would breastfeed in between the takes. Katie Morgan, another former pornographic actress, also appeared in the film.
During 2009, Lords appeared in the direct-to-DVD science fiction movie, Princess of Mars, alongside Antonio Sabàto, Jr. She later regretted making the movie saying: "Somewhere in my heart of hearts I was worried that I might be doing something wrong but I believed the voices of those around me who said 'No, it'll be artistic, no it'll be creative. You'll look beautiful. We have a very limited budget but honest, you'll be proud.' And it was bad, very bad. At least that was what I was told. After watching the first two minutes I had to turn it off and hide under the covers."
2010–present: Excision and return to music
Lords first mentioned her intention to release new music in October 2009 and confirmed a song called "Pretty" co-written by the photographer Mike Ruiz. Shortly afterwards, she got signed to Sea To Sun Recordings and began working on new material. In June 2011, the drama comedy Au Pair, Kansas premiered at the Kansas City FilmFest. In August, Lords again spoke about her return to music and announced the single "Last Drag" which was released in October. It managed to be successful in dance charts and peaked at number four on the Billboard Dance Club Songs. Three of her other songs: "I'll Be Your Alibi", "Watching You Watching Me", and "Catch Me In the Pose", were featured on the television series Sons of Anarchy, but were not commercially released. Lords starred in the horror Excision (2012), alongside AnnaLynne McCord and Ariel Winter, as Phyllis, a hyperreligious and controlling mother. Her performance earned her Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as Fright Meter Award and CinEuphoria Award.
In May 2015, Lords appeared in an episode of the reality television series, Celebrity Wife Swap. In September, the E39 NYC Club Mix of "I'll Be Your Alibi" became available online. The E39 Paparazzi Mix of "Catch Me in the Pose" surfaced in November. In March 2016, the television thriller Nightmare Nurse, in which Lords appeared, premiered. It was announced that Lords will appear in the upcoming series Swedish Dicks. In June, Lords announced her clothing line in collaboration with Pin Up Girl Clothing inspired by her character of Wanda Woodward from Cry-Baby (1990), as well as the 1950s fashion and pin-up models. She commented on her inspiration behind the line: "John wrote such strong characters in Cry-Baby. And in that rockabilly/punk rock/vintage-pinup-girl kind of world, Wanda Woodward is pretty much a queen."
- Not of This Earth (1988)
- Fast Food (1989)
- Cry-Baby (1990)
- Shock 'Em Dead (1990)
- Raw Nerve (1991)
- A Time to Die (1991)
- The Nutt House (1992)
- Intent to Kill (1992)
- Laser Moon (1993)
- Skinner (1993)
- Desperate Crimes (1993)
- Plughead Rewired: Circuitry Man II (1994)
- Serial Mom (1994)
- Ice (1994)
- Virtuosity (1995)
- Underworld (1996)
- Blood Money (1996)
- Nowhere (1997)
- Stir (1997)
- Boogie Boy (1998)
- Extramarital (1998)
- Blade (1998)
- Me and Will (1999)
- The Killing Club (1999)
- Epicenter (2000)
- Chump Change (2000)
- Full Blast (2000)
- Certain Guys (2000)
- Black Mask 2: City of Masks (2002)
- Manhood (2003)
- Frostbite (2005)
- Novel Romance (2006)
- Crazy Eights (2006)
- The Chosen One (2007)
- Your Name Here (2008)
- Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
- I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (2009)
- Princess of Mars (2009)
- Here & Now (2010)
- Au Pair, Kansas (2011)
- Excision (2012)
- Devil May Call (2013)
- Tag (2015)
- Sharkansas Women's Prison Massacre (2016)
- 1000 Fires (1995)