David Lopez and Guadalupe Rodriguez encourage their three daughters to perform skits in their Bronx home, igniting a strong desire to perform in their second daughter, Jennifer. After high school graduation, she appears in the 1987 film My Little Girl with Mary Stuart Masterson and James Earl Jones. She also dances in the musical Synchronicity in Japan.
Lopez gets a big Hollywood break as a fancy-footed Fly Girl on the Wayans brothers' hit Fox comedy show In Living Color, soon graduating to dramatic roles on TV's Second Chances and South Central.
After starring alongside Jimmy Smits and Edward James Olmos in Mi Familia, Lopez stars in the action comedy Money Train (left) with Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson. "She's as beautiful as a model, but she can act," director Joseph Ruben tells PEOPLE. She also begins filming Blood and Wine with Jack Nicholson in Miami, where she spots 23-year-old Cuban waiter Ojani Noa.
Lopez weds Ojani Noa in Miami in front of 200 friends and family, including Oliver Stone, who directed Lopez in U-Turn. The marriage lasts 13 months, but the couple remains friends, with Noa managing Lopez restaurant Madre's in 2002. In 2006, though, Lopez sues Noa, charging that he demanded $5 million to shelve a tell-all book about their relationship.
Lopez brings the murdered Tejano singer Selena back to life in a biopic, but not before beating out 11,000 competitors who flocked to auditions around the country and winning approval from Selena's padre Abraham Quintanilla. Comedian Paul Rodriguez, a Quintanilla family friend, tells PEOPLE, "Looking at Jennifer, you could swear that the killing was all just a bad nightmare."
Lopez stars as a sexy federal marshal with George Clooney in the Oscar-nominated film Out of Sight. Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman says, "Lopez, for all her Latina siren voluptuousness, has always projected a continued coolness, and this is the first movie in which it fully works for her."
Lopez's debut album, On the 6 – named after the subway train that shuttled her between her Bronx home and Manhattan dance auditions – produces five hit singles, including "If You Had My Love," and goes triple platinum.
Lopez goes public with her new squeeze, hip-hop bad boy Sean Puffy Combs, who has a reported $250 million empire. Puffy, as he is known at the time, produced and wrote a track for On the 6, while a scantily clad Lopez appeared on the cover of his Notorious. They appear at Combs' Labor Day bash at his East Hampton, N.Y., mansion in matching white outfits. "She wants to be with someone who will protect her," her ex-husband Ojani Noa tells PEOPLE.
Lopez and Combs are hauled into a Manhattan police station after fleeing a nightclub where a member of Combs' entourage fired several shots into the air when a bar patron insulted Combs. Three bystanders are injured by stray bullets. After chasing the couple through 11 red lights and finding a loaded gun in the front seat of their vehicle, police fingerprint and handcuff a sobbing Lopez to a bench, where she is grilled for 14 hours before being cleared and released. Combs, however, is charged with illegal handgun possession and bribery and will remain under a cloud until his acquittal nearly two years later. The shooter is found guilty on several charges.
Despite their legal maelstrom, Lopez and Combs appear carefree as they saunter down the red carpet at the Grammys. But all eyes – and cameras – are focused on Lopez's barely there Versace gown, making her hot copy for days. South Park creator Trey Parker is so impressed that he shows up at the Oscars a few weeks later in a knockoff of the dress.
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