Whatever Happened to Natasha Lyonne?

But I'm A Cheerleader DVD case.
Credit: walmart.com

About 10 years ago, Natasha Lyonne was an up-and-coming actress, starring in quirky cult films like "The Slums of Beverly Hills" and "But I'm A Cheerleader!" She has appeared in a few films in the last few years, after a pronounced slump in her career. So what happened in the interim?


Natasha Lyonne was born in 1979 to Orthodox Jewish parents. She spent her early childhood in Israel. After her parents divorce, she and her brother moved, with her mother, to New York City and later Miami.

Lyonne's first acting role came when she was seven, as "Opal" on Pee-Wee's Playhouse. She also appeared as Polly in the 1993 movie version of Dennis the Menace. It was in 1999, at the age of 20, that she got her big break, playing the wise-cracking Jessica in the movie American Pie.

Natasha Lyonne as Opal in Pee-Wee's Playhouse.
Credit: My new plaid pants - http://mynewplaidpants.blogspot.com/2010/11/pee-wee-fun-fact.html

Natasha went on to star in The Slums of Beverly Hills, a film about a family eking out an existence along the edges of Southern Californian affluence, and But I'm a Cheerleader!, about a lesbian teenager sent to a camp to cure her lesbianism. She also appeared in Detroit Rock City, If These Walls Could Talk 2 and the tv show Will & Grace.

In August of 2001, Natasha Lyonne was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. According to The Smoking Gun, the actress refused a breathalyzer test and said, "I'm a movie star. Can I talk to my entertainment lawyer?" She was 22.

In 2002 and 2003, she appeared in a few movies, including Party Monster, where she played the protagonist's girlfriend. Her landlord/friend, Michael Rapaport, started getting reports from other tenants that she was behaving very erratically. At first, Rapaport brushed it off––but things got worse:

A couple of weeks later, things went downhill and stayed there. Even her most loyal friends didn't seem to come around so often...Tim was telling me about the late-night parties and "random dudes sprawled out on her sofa at all hours." Her close friend and roommate, John, decided to move out, telling me he'd had enough. He also told me he was worried about her health.

In 2003, Rapoport kicked her out of the apartment for making trouble with her building-mates. It was on December 17th of that year that "shit hit the fan...Apparently, Natasha ripped down [her building-mate's] mirrors, destroyed some of their belongings and threatened Shelly's dog." She was subsequently arrested. When she finally left the apartment, Rapoport said it "looked like a grenade had gone off," with trash everywhere and standing water in the tub.

Natasha Lyonne mugshot, 2001.
Credit: The Smoking Gun - http://www.thesmokinggun.com/mugshots/celebrity/hollywood/natasha-lyonne

What happened to Natasha Lyonne after that? IMDB reports that she worked in a few movies throughout 2004 and 2005, but nothing for 2006, and only one appearance, in 2007, on the tv show "Knights of Prosperity." In 2005, Lyonne was hospitalized for a collapsed lung and underwent methadone treatment.

In June of 2006, Jessica at Gawker profiled Lyonne's apparent woes, as reported by anonymous New Yorkers:

She looks like she could die any minute. She was sitting on a step with her drug needle literally falling out of her hand as she started to go into her heroin sleep.Then she would wake up and try to itch her face. What is wrong with her face? She looks like she has a huge tumor or maybe she has been beaten up or has some sort of infection but it is red and swollen and bleeding...Where is her family? Why isn't anyone getting her help?

Lyonne may or may not have been living on the streets at that time.  It seems likely that she had some place to live, if only with friends.


In 2009, Lyonne began to appear in more movies and tv shows, including Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle and an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. In 2010, Natasha Lyonne starred in the horror film All About Evil, her first starring role in a decade. She will appear in American Reunion, another sequel to American Pie, in 2012.

All About Evil

In a 2009 interview with Gothamist, Lyonne described how she hopes to come into her own in the decade ahead:

I hear your thirties are supposed to be good. I heard you come into your own and relax a little. We'll see. I made it—that was the first surprise of thirty. And that was also the first bummer of thirty. (Laughs)...I recently got some stuff out of storage and I was really a teenager back in my twenties. Like I have a whole bunch of Lenny Bruce and Kierkegaard and Surrealism and The Velvet Underground, ya know? And who am I now? I haven't really worked up some adult character yet.

She added:

Time is going by and it feels like I'm going to be all right. It's kind of amazing, ya know? I could have been really screwed. It's kind of amazing to be given the chance to make a living at it again and do good work again after the self-destructive mission I put myself through...

So now maybe I don't even know the kind of career I wanna have. But it's pretty cool that I get to figure that out. I was a child actor, which is not something that I'm proud of—aside from the fact that I'm on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, which I'm proud of. But obviously it wasn't like that was a choice. It wasn't like that was my career move as a six-year old...I was really angry that I wasn't given the choice to go to college and be a philosophy major. I never had time to figure out what I wanted to do with this life.

Here's hoping for a brighter future for Natasha Lyonne, that she figures out what kind of career she has, and that she'll be able to deal with her demons in a constructive way. And here's hoping she stars in some great movies, too!