Born: May 7, 1968
Birthplace: Steubenville, Ohio, U.S.
Traci Elizabeth Lords (born Nora Louise Kuzma; May 7, 1968) is an American actress, singer, model, writer, producer, and director. During the 1980s, she was one of the most sought-after pornographic actresses in the industry. She achieved notoriety after law enforcement discovered that she was underage when she posed nude and appeared in numerous X-rated films. The resulting withdrawal of her films from distributors and rental stores cost the industry millions of dollars and her case became the biggest scandal to affect the adult film industry.
After her departure from pornography at age eighteen, 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.
Lords also pursued music in addition to her film career. 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 generally positive reviews. 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 New York Times Best Seller list.
Lords was born Nora Louise Kuzma on May 7, 1968, in Steubenville, Ohio, into a Jewish household, to Louis and Patricia Kuzma (née Briceland). Her father's parents were immigrants from Ukraine, while her mother was of Irish ancestry. Louis was employed 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 three sisters to her great-grandmother's house. Following their divorce, her father got partial custody. Around that same time, her mother enrolled at the Ohio University and landed only a part-time job."I never wanted to be like my mother. You know, kids at sixteen, a husband who drinks and beats you. When I hit L.A., I said 'There's gonna be some changes here.' I hated the world. I was hateful to my mother. If I came home from a date at 11:30 and my mother questioned me, I'd say, 'I was out fucking somebody!' I wasn't. I just wanted to piss my mother off."
—Lords about her teenage years
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 raped by a sixteen-year-old boy whom 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.
At age 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 and started working for her as a babysitter. The woman offered to improve Lords' job opportunities by helping her get a fake driver's license. She provided Lords with a new birth certificate on condition that if she were ever caught she would say that she had stolen the phony identification. Lords now had a new driver's license with the name Kristie Elizabeth Nussman that stated she was 22 rather than 15 years old. She was now able to line up a few job interviews. In February 1984, Lords 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 selected to model for Penthouse magazine's 15th-anniversary issue, 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. Some of her schoolmates recognized her in the Velvet magazine pictorial. Lords subsequently quit high school at age 15 and entered the sex industry, where formal education was irrelevant. The September 1984 issue, which featured Lords in a nude centerfold - she earned $5,000 for the shoot - became the best-selling issue in the history of Penthouse, partly because it also featured a nude pictorial of Vanessa Williams (appearing with George Burns on the cover photograph), who had won the Miss America Pageant the previous year. Lords' article stated that she was 22 years of age, was a virgin until nineteen, and had studied interior design at El Camino College.
Lords made the first of her many illegal movies 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 in a sex role alongside Harry Reems and Ginger Lynn. After appearing at age 16 with John Leslie (an actor 23 years her senior) 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 had appeared in a torrid sex scene with Leslie at the end of the film). 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 1985, when she decided to quit the industry at age 17 (she came out of retirement a few months later). 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, (Eddie Dzial) was shelved.
During late May 1986 (around three weeks after Lords' 18th birthday), authorities discovered she had been underage when she appeared in the porn movies. She had lied to law enforcement, photographers, producers, directors, co-workers, and the general public for two years. The owners of her movie agency and X-Citement Video, Inc. were arrested. (See United States v. X-Citement Video) She was taken into protective custody and hired high-profile lawyer Leslie Abramson. On July 10, district attorney's investigators searched Lords' Redondo Beach home as well as 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, who was 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 before the illicit photos for the September 1984 issue were taken (she was actually fifteen years of age in the photographs). When investigators used Lords' fake birth certificate and fake state identification cards to locate the real Kristie Nussman, Nussman said that 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 from their shelves all hardcore material featuring Lords, because the videos were classified as child pornography. 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 that 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 permanently removed 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 Cannes, France. 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. "Traci, I Love You" was the last porn film that featured Traci Lords. Lords was offered enormous sums of money to continue in porn, but she declined the requests.
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 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 that 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 titled 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 auditioned 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 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 filmed in 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.
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.
By the end of 1995, Lords divorced her husband of five years, Brook Yeaton. In 1996, she appeared in a commercial for GUESS with Juliette Lewis.
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 member 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 of 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 into 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 member in the third season of the Sci-fi Channel television series First Wave, becoming the first recurring female character to be featured 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.
Her autobiography, Traci Lords: Underneath It All, was published during July 2003 by HarperCollins. In the book, Lords chronicled 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 revealed that she received only $35,000 as total compensation for all her porno movies, including the $5,000 for her underage appearance in Penthouse. Lords continued to use the now famous stage name that she had given 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.
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-Ds 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.
In 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.
In 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."
In March 2010, Lords announced she began working on her new album with "Pretty" being the lead single. However, the project was later shelved and "Pretty" was released as a promotional single only. Lords starred in the drama comedy Au Pair, Kansas which premiered in April 2011 at the Kansas City FilmFest. In July, Lords officially signed to independent record label Sea To Sun Recordings and in October made her musical comeback with the song "Last Drag". The single was successful in dance charts debuting at number forty-five and eventually peaking at number four on the Billboard Dance Club Songs.
Lords starred alongside AnnaLynne McCord and Ariel Winter in the horror Excision (2012), which premiered in January 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival. Her portrayal of the hyperreligious and controlling mother Phyllis earned Lords Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as Fright Meter Award and CinEuphoria Award. In September, Lords released a compilation of dance music Traci Lords Presents: M2F2 (2012). It featured three of her own remixed tracks as well as songs by other artists. The song "He's My Bitch" managed to chart on the Billboard Dance Club Songs peaking at number twenty-five. Lords also voiced the character of Layla Stockton in the 2012 video game Hitman: Absolution. Following the Steubenville High School rape case, Lords spoke up on the topic and subsequently released the song "Stupidville" as a response to the case. "I was born in Steubenville, Ohio and I was raped in there. So was my mother. I think there's a sickness in that city," Lords said. In 2013, Lords appeared in the horror movie Devil May Call (2013) and an episode of the web series EastSiders. She was nominated for the Best Guest Star - Drama at the 2014 Indie Series Awards.
In May 2015, Lords appeared in an episode of the fourth season of the reality television series Celebrity Wife Swap, where she swapped lives with Jackée Harry. Lords co-starred in Jim Wynorski's television horror Sharkansas Women's Prison Massacre (2015) and made her second appearance as Val on the series EastSiders. In March 2016, Lords co-starred in the television thriller Nightmare Nurse (2016) in which she played a psychopathic nurse looking for revenge for her dead husband. Lords voiced several characters in the action-adventure video game Hitman (2016) after having had previously voiced the character of Layla Stockton in Hitman: Absolution (2012). In June, Lords announced her collaboration with Pinup Girl Clothing. Inspired by the character of Wanda Woodward from Cry-Baby (1990) as well as the 1950s fashion, the clothing line was available exclusively through the Pinup Girl Clothing website. She commented on her inspiration behind the line: "John wrote such strong characters in Cry-Baby. And in that rockabilly, punk rock, vintage pin-up girl kind of world, Wanda Woodward is pretty much a queen."
Lords co-starred in the Viaplay original comedy series Swedish Dicks. She played Jane McKinney, a private investigator and competitor of the show's protagonist. In October, the series was renewed for a second season with Lords as a confirmed cast. In the United States, the first season will premiere in August 2017. Later that month, Lords confirmed she would direct her first feature film called The Unquiet Grave. Filming is scheduled to commence in 2017. In November, it was announced that Lords voiced the character of Jackal Z in the upcoming video game Let It Die (2016), and will appear on the third season of EastSiders. In July 2017, Helmut Lang's fashion campaign for the Fall 2017 collection featuring Lords was unveiled.
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Lords is a strong supporter of the LGBT community.
|2001||Film Discovery Jury Award||Best Actress||Chump Change||Won|
|2005||Spike Video Game Award||Best Supporting Female Performance||True Crime: New York City (video game)||Won|
|2012||Fright Meter Award||Best Supporting Actress||Excision||Won|
|2013||CinEuphoria Award||Best Supporting Actress - International Competition||Excision||Won|
|2013||Fangoria Chainsaw Award||Best Supporting Actress||Excision||Won|
|2014||Indie Series Awards||Best Guest Star - Drama||EastSiders||Nominated|