lisa16During the early part of this decade, sistergirl had the distinction of being the only African-American actress with enough steelo to star in two hit TV series — Ally McBeal and ER – simultaneously.

With elegant but bit parts in The Cosby Show and Law & Order, in the 1990s, the Brooklyn, New York-born brick house known as Lisa Nicole Carson became a princess of the small screen.

Her star rose higher as she was cast in feature-length films Love Jones, Jason’s Lyric, and Eve’s Bayou.

But what happened to Carson, the serious character actor with a star as bright and fiery as her male counterpart, Tupac Shakur?

The woman that played a then-rare-for-its-time steamy scene with Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress (“You hittin’ my spot!”) has reportedly taken time away from entertainment. The official line is that she is being “cared for by family,” due to mental health issues.

Hints of Carson’s illness first surfaced in 2000 after a fateful incident at the L’Ermitage Hotel in Los Angeles. The morning before the Grammys were set to begin, news reports indicated an inebriated Carson yelled obscenities while at the bar. She was charged with “interfering with a legal business establishment” and “not leaving the premises” before being released to the custody of some associates.

Reports differed on her apparel or if she visited the bar twice that morning, but some witnesses said she had on wrinkled jeans while others stated that she had on a bathrobe. In any event, she was arrested for disorderly conduct and whisked away by her family into a mental health facility. That incident followed an eight-day binge in a hotel where it was reported she drank alcohol and smoke weed. Soon she was admitted to a hospital for an “undisclosed medical condition.”

Star Magazine that year reportedly quoted Carson as saying she had “smoked a joint laced with PCP,” and that the actress was working to get it together. Indications were that that was her second stay that year in a mental institution. In July of 2001 it was reported that she had been in a restaurant “sitting alone, talking to herself, and then she locked herself in the bathroom for 45 minutes,” a restaurant employee told Rolling Stone Magazine in 2001.

Police led her away but the producers of ER killed her character off in a car accident without even bringing her in for a final taping. Carson was treated in the mental health unit at Manhattan’s famed Lenox Hill Hospital, where such stars as Barry Manilow, Elizabeth Taylor and Winston Churchill have also received care. Earlier this year, British actress Natasha Richardson, who sustained fatal injuries while skiing, died there.

But what exactly was it that ailed Carson?

Reports have surfaced that Carson suffered from either bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The two illnesses are similar but there are differences. Bipolar sufferers experience extremes in mood and temperament, capable of exhibiting a startling nonchalance one minute and a raging meltdown the next. A lot of people mistake schizophrenia for split personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder, but it is not the same.

One of the major hallmarks of schizophrenia patients is that they almost always suffer auditory and even visual hallucinations with ranging degrees of paranoia. Strange occurrences on the set of both “McBeal” and “ER” doomed her in the closed world of television.

But is that the end for Carson? Thankfully, no.

While traits of both bipolar and schizophrenia can be hereditary or genetic, recreational drugs tend to worsen the symptoms. Contrary to popular belief, sufferers of bipolar and schizophrenia can live normal lives, provided they stick to a regimen of medication for a certain time frame dependent on the individual. In other words, we just may see Lisa Nicole Carson on the small screen – or the big screen –again.

To learn more about bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other mental health illnesses, contact NARSAD, the world’s leading charity dedicated to mental health research www.narsad.org.

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