Lionel Richie is taken by 3-year-old Nicole, a fixture at his concerts, and gets the approval of her birth parents to let her move in with him and his wife, Brenda. She is officially adopted six years later. "My parents were friends with Lionel," Nicole tells PEOPLE in 2003. "They trusted that they would be better able to provide for me." In 1986, she attends kindergarten at the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, Calif. with classmate Paris Hilton.
By 14, Richie uses fake IDs to sneak into clubs, honing her party-girl reputation. A few years later, she says to PEOPLE, "I experimented with drugs," and at 21, "I dabbled in heroin." After her graduation from Montclair, Richie decides to leave California behind to be a coed at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She studies arts and media, but eventually drops out, returning to L.A.
Richie, 21, is busted on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance and driving with a revoked license. "They found one balloon of heroin. It wasn't on me; it was in the car," she tells PEOPLE. She soon enters the Sierra Tucson drug rehab center in Arizona.