Pebbles sues TLC over VH1 biopic for $40 million

Perri "Pebbles" Reid is still angry about her negative portrayal as TLC's boss in the popular VH1 biopic "CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story," which debuted a year ago and has been repeated numerous times since on the network.

She sued VH1 owner Viacom for defamation in April in federal court, asking for $40 million in damages. (That case is still pending and is in discovery.) This week, she filed a new state lawsuit against surviving members of TLC and executive producers Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas for the same $40 million amount in compensatory and punitive damages.

Pebbles, in the lawsuit filed in the state court of Fulton County, wrote that she was shown as a "conniving and dishonest business woman who hoodwinked three innocent girls and exploited their talent for her own personal gain and in the process negatively influenced their personal lives and deprived them of their compensation."

That, she wrote, "is false." She said she "never had control over or influenced TLC's attorneys or accounts, never withheld contract terms from TLC, always paid TLC members what they were owned under their industry-standard contracts and oftentimes more than they were owned, and never encouraged group members to put their health before business." [And in a mistake her attorneys should have caught, she clearly meant the other way around and should have written "never encouraged group members to put business before their health."]

She wrote that she did not pressure TLC members into signing contracts without reading them, as shown in the film, or refuse to show them copies of the contract. She denied only paying them $25 a week and wrote she was not involved with trying to remove Chilli from TLC.

Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins of TLC are being sued by their former manager Perri "Pebbles" Reid for defamation over the VH1 film "CrazySexyCool." CREDIT: Getty Images, 2013

Pebbles, in the lawsuit, believes this film "damaged her reputation as a business woman and entertainer" because it conveyed a "grossly inaccurate and false impression of Ms. Reid."

She is a public figure and the threshold to win a defamation suit is higher for public figures than private citizens. There has to be a blatant attempt to falsely portray that person with intent to harm them, which is what she is arguing.

Pebbles had three top 10 hits on the pop charts ("Mercedes Boy," "Giving You the Benefit," "Girlfriend") and five R&B hits (including "Take Your Time" and "Love Makes Things Happen.") She married LaFace Records creator L.A. Reid in 1989 and created her own label. She managed TLC for several years but was sued by the group in 1995 for mismanaging funds and paying them only $50,000 each in 1993 and 1994 when the hugely successful "CrazySexyCool" album came out.

Viacom, when responding to the April lawsuit on very much the same charges, said the company believes the film is fair and true and they weren't peddling false statements.

Rochelle Aytes (left, standing) played Pebbles in the film. Evan Ross played Dallas Austin (seated). The three actresses portraying TLC were Lil Mama (Lopes), Keke Palmer (Chilli) and Drew Sidora (T-Boz). CREDIT: Vh1

Atlanta-based trio TLC is one of the biggest selling female groups of all time with hits such as "Waterfalls," "No Scrubs" and "What About Your Friends." A third member, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, died in a car accident in 2002. The other two women have performed sporadically over the years without her, including a tour not too long ago in Australia.

The lawsuit goes into detail from Pebbles' perspective in how the group was formed, her role in it and what she knew or didn't know at the time. For instance, she wrote in the lawsuit that she had no idea Chilli was pregnant in the early 1990s and learned of T-Boz's sickle-cell anemia only after the first album was released. She wrote how actively she was in recruiting and managing the group in those early years.

"On many occasions," the lawsuit states, "Ms. Reid personally advanced expenses on behalf of TLC and was never fully reimbursed by the group out of her own generosity" and "compensated TLC over and above amounts due under the terms of the contract." She portrayed herself as a person who "counseled" and "nurtured" the group as individuals and encouraged them to be frugal in their spending as new artists. She wrote she "poured her heart and soul into the group for over five years and did not want to walk away from TLC."

She said before the first album was completed, TLC began to try to change contract terms to cut her out of the deal. She believes TLC filed for bankruptcy in 1995 as "a legal ploy to renege on, and be released from, its contractual obligations to Ms. Reid."

The two sides eventually settled that case.

In a separate lawsuit, she also sued the film's screenwriter Kate Lanier.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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