(The Root) — “This episode is personal for me,” explains Yoruba priestess, author and TV host Iyanla Vanzant as she cruises through Los Angeles to meet actress Maia Campbell, the subject of this past Saturday night’s Iyanla: Fix My Life series on OWN.
In fact, it’s personal for any of us who remember Campbell, 36, as the fresh-faced and spoiled Tiffany on the 1990s sitcom In the House. Or as Larenz Tate’s bougie love interest, Nicole, on Fox’s short-lived South Central. Remember that brief glimpse of her at the breakfast table in Poetic Justice? That almond skin and those Cher-like locks were unmistakable.
Campbell was a starlet at a time when we had starlets. When there was more than just a stingy pinch of young black girls on television, on the radio and on the big screen. She came up with a class that included Brandi, Countess Vaughn, Tatyana Ali, Nia Long, Tia and Tamera Mowry, Essence Atkins, Reagan Gomez, Kellie Williams and, of course, the entire cast of Living Single. Referred to often as a brief golden age of black cinema, the ’90s were Campbell’s for the taking. That is, until she disappeared.
Campbell, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had a breakdown on the set of In the House and was summarily fired from the show in 1999. A decade later, she resurfaced as the hapless star of a now infamous YouTube video (NSFW) featuring a much different Campbell.
It was obvious that the last couple of years hadn’t been good to her. She appeared drunk, high or both. She was emaciated, ashen and incoherent. It was heartbreaking.
Vanzant repeats often that helping Campbell, the daughter of best-selling author Bebe Moore Campbell, who died of brain cancer in 2006, is personal. “I knew her mother,” Vanzant tells us at the beginning of the episode. “Like me, she was a writer. Like me, she was a mom.” But I wonder why the starlet’s descent is personal for the rest of us.
When news of Campbell’s appearance on Fix My Life broke, more than a few of my friends vowed to set their DVRs for Saturday, not because they relished witnessing a train wreck but because they were genuinely invested in supporting Campbell’s comeback — if only from their couches.
I’m not sure if we felt the same way for other formerly bright stars who have flamed out publicly, like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. I asked one friend why and she explained it the Paul Mooney way: “We don’t have the complexion for protection. When the Lohans of the world are a mess, their opportunities don’t dry up at the rate that ours would.”