Trained at various professional schools for youngsters, actress Ricki Lake completed her education at Ithaca College. While her excessive weight precluded ingenue roles on stage and screen, Lake enjoyed some success as a cabaret singer and off-Broadway performer; she was also a gifted musician, adept at several instruments. Her film career began in 1988 as a member of director John Waters' eccentric stock company. She garnered fine reviews for her work in Waters' Hairspray and the made-for-TV Babycakes (1989) and in the regular role of Red-Cross volunteer Holly Pergerino on the weekly TV series China Beach. Sensing that her poundage was holding her back professionally, Lake lost 115 pounds over a 36-month period. It was a svelte, sexy Ricki Lake who in 1993 launched the popular daily TV talkfest The Ricki Lake Show. In 1996, she returned to the big screen playing a leading role in Mrs. Winterbourne opposite Shirley MacLaine. She continued to appear in Waters' films, like Cecil B. Demented (2000), A Dirty Shame (2004) and the remake of Hairspray (2007). Her talk show ended in 2004; she launched a second, short-lived talk show in 2012.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- As a teenager, took singing and dancing lessons at New York's Professional Children's School, and worked as a cabaret singer for a time after dropping out of college.
- Starred in the 1990 film Cry-Baby as Pepper Walker, a character written specifically for her by writer-director John Waters.
- Appeared in both the 1988 and 2007 versions of the movie Hairspray. In the first she played the leading role of Tracy Turnblad, and in the latter made a cameo as a William Morris talent agent.
- Produced the 2007 documentary The Business of Being Born, which explores childbirth in the modern world. The film includes footage of her home birthing her second son, Owen.
- Competed in the 13th season of ABC's Dancing with the Stars with partner Derek Hough.