The '80s Lady marches into the '90s "with a new sense of power"

IT WAS, TO PIT IT MILDLY A HISSY FIT TO END All HISSY FITS. ON an early spring evening in 1991, K.T. Oslin was in her dressing-room trailer at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Md., getting ready for a CBS-TV All-Star Salute to Our Troops special honoring the soldiers returning from the Gulf War. The country music star was, as she recalls it, bending over a basin washing her hair when the water suddenly stopped running. After visiting three separate trailers in search of a working spigot, Oslin exploded. She slammed the door of her trailer so hard the vehicle shook; she knocked her makeup kit off the table: and she shrieked at a technician. "I was ready to kill," she says. "If I held had a weapon, I would have used it." Pulling herself together, Oslin serenaded the troops. But a few months later, she hung up her mike and virtually disappeared from the music business.

Fans wondered what had happened to the down-home diva who had scored big in 1987 with 80's Ladies and won three Grammy Awards in the following three years. Oslin, who grew up poor in Arkansas, had always seemed to be the kind of woman who dealt with life's vicissitudes head-on, often turning her sorrows into songs ("Wall of Tears"). By last fall, though, Nashville's country-music community was whispering that she had become immobilized by depression—or that she had grown too fat to go out in public.

Whatever did happen to K.T. Oslin? The singer, now 51, curls up on a chair in her three-bedroom brick colonial home in Nashville and addresses the rumors. The truth, she says, is that she was undergoing a severe mid-life crisis, a wicked swamp of depression brought on by the 1992 death of her mother, Kathleen, from an aneurysm; career burnout; creeping poundage; and menopause, which was perhaps most debilitating of all.

"I'd been having hot flashes," she says matter-of-factly, referring to the often joked about but sometimes troubling signpost of female change of life. "I think the kind of life I was living—running, being pulled in different directions—worsened everything," she adds. "Sometimes I felt like I was dying. I had to take stairs one at a time. I thought, I can hardly walk, and I'm barely 50.' "

These days, Oslin says she still can't handle the last track, and she doesn't care to. But she is back with a new album, cheekily titled Songs from An Aging Sex Bomb; a nonsinging role in her first feature film, Peter Bogdanovich's The Thing Called Love, premiering on Aug. 27; and, most important, she declares, "a greater sense of peaceful-ness and happiness."

In retrospect, Oslin says, she's hardly surprised that "my bug level went zooming" just before the Salute to Our Troops. Show business, she insists, doesn't agree with her. "I don't have the drive for it," she says. In 1987, after 20 years in the entertainment minor leagues, she had gone in just two months "from being an obscurity to The Tonight Show." It would have been better, she says, "if I'd come out of the box a little slower."

Oslin says she coped with the mounting pressure first by having a face-lift—"to lake; away some signs of aging," she says. "and allow me to have some control over the way I looked on-camera." She also briefly experimented with psychotherapy, "just to have someone to talk to about my life." She fell satisfied with those sessions, she says. Still, every time something had happened—such as the 1991 death of her beloved American Staffordshire terrier, Vinnie—feelings of prolonged depression would overcome her.

Whether those feelings were connected to menopause, Oslin can't say for sure. But when her doctor confirmed, in 1991, that she was going through change of life. she certainly got emotional: "I cried for days," she recalls.

The singer has never married, and her family history is one reason. Her father Harold, died of leukemia at 38, when Oslin was 2. Afterward, she and her brother, Larry, 55, a draftsman for an oil rigging company, were uprooted repeatedly as her mother, a hospital lab technician, married and divorced four times. Says Oslin: "I always looked at marriage as something where you're married for two years and then you divorce. Over the years, Oslin has had her share of beaux—including Nashville record producer Steve Buckingham and her band's drummer, Owen Hale. And in the back of her mind, she had always thought about having kids. "In the past I had chosen not to gel pregnant," she says. "Now I didn't have the choice."

Oslin says that her problems only got worse when she began taking hormone supplements commonly prescribed for menopausal symptoms. "I became immobilized" she says. "I was like a big, dumb Persian cat." She spent months. she says, "in a bathrobe staring at the TV. All the girl places got huge—big boobs, bull, stomach." The singer, who is 5'6", refuses to divulge her weight, then or now. but insists. "I wasn't eating more than usual—the hormones put weight on me."

Late last year, by dint of sheer will, she began to climb out of her depression and in February decided to lake herself off hormones. Now she says, "I feel my edge coming back—I feel like doing something. That includes writing four songs for her now album and beginning to decorate the home she purchased five years ago.

But perhaps her most significant decision involves not falling back into the trap of having to "look a certain way" because she's a star. "I like the feel of a little weight," Oslin says. "It gives me a sense of being centered and steady."

Oslin's size was no obstacle to her being cast as a nightclub owner in The Thing Called Love, a love story about the country music world, which also stars River Phoenix and Trisha Yearwood. "She is an absolutely brilliant actress."" says director Bogdanovich, who adds, "K.T. told me what she had gone through, but by the time we filmed, she was on the other side of it."

No matter how well the movie and her new album do, Oslin says she already feels "wonderfully powerful." The beauty of being 51, she asserts, is that "you can start saying 'Kiss my shapely big fat ass' " to anyone who tries to put pressure on you. "I'm in a wonderful place," she says. "I'm alone, but I like my own company. I have money. I can be an old lady and not worry. I'm content."

MARJORIE ROSEN
DOLLY CARLISLE in Nashville

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  • Dolly Carlisle.