What really happened between Aaliyah and R Kelly from pregnancy rumours to him ‘legalising child abuse’

HAILED as a genius who paved the way for the female R&B superstars of today, Aaliyah died 20 years ago in a plane crash at just 22.

But her tragic anniversary is being overshadowed by the sex abuse trial, beginning last week, of former husband R. Kelly — who married her underage when she was 15.


Aaliyah’s career almost ended over the R Kelly marriage scandal as she was demonised by the music industryCredit: Getty
Aaliyah and rapper R Kelly, who now stands trial accused of sexual abuse with several teenage girls


Aaliyah and rapper R Kelly, who now stands trial accused of sexual abuse with several teenage girls

In what has been called the biggest music industry scandal since Michael Jackson stood trial in 2005 on charges of child molestation, the 54-year-old singer is accused of racketeering, sexual abuse and bribery in relation to his illegal marriage to Aaliyah and conduct with five other teenage girls.

He has repeatedly denied all the charges.

Aaliyah was thought to have been pregnant at the time of her marriage to Kelly, then 27 in 1994, and he is accused of bribing an official to forge documents.

When the marriage ended, Aaliyah’s career almost ended over the scandal as she was demonised by the music industry — while R. Kelly continued to go from strength to strength.

In her explosive new book, Baby Girl: Better Known As Aaliyah, biographer Kathy Iandoli claims the teen was forced to sign a legal document banning her from discussing “emotional distress” or “physical harm” caused by Kelly’s abuse.

Kathy says that while showbiz circles painted the union as happy, Aaliyah was a victim of grooming and “legalised child abuse”.


She alleges: “We were all misled. The marriage was presented as some sort of romance where they ran away together and secretly got married because they couldn’t be apart.

“There was nothing romantic about it. This was a marriage for R. Kelly’s benefit to make sure that he couldn’t get in trouble for abusing her.

“There is speculation that she was pregnant but he couldn’t be held accountable for any crime because she was technically his ‘wife’. It was a way to legalise his abuse.”

Author Kathy adds: “Everyone looked at her like she did something wrong, when in fact you’re talking about a serial abuser who has a very significant and specific pattern.

“His career continued to take off and she had to fight for every moment.”

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Aaliyah Haughton moved to Detroit at five with her parents and older brother Rashad.

She got her first taste of fame at ten on the TV show Star Search.

Two years later she signed for Blackground records, owned by her uncle, Barry Hankerson, who had been married to soul legend Gladys Knight.

Hankerson introduced her to R. Kelly, a huge star thanks to hits such as I Believe I Can Fly, when she was 12.

Kelly produced her debut album — ironically titled Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number — which was released in May 1994 and sold more than six million copies worldwide.

Aaliyah insisted they were “best friends” and on August 31, 1994, the pair wed illegally and without the knowledge of her parents.

In the recent Netflix documentary Surviving R. Kelly, his former assistant Demetrius Smith admitted helping forge marriage documents and revealed the 15-year-old singer had believed she was pregnant.

He says: “Robert told me he thought Aaliyah was pregnant.

“That broke my heart because I really believed him when he said he wasn’t messing with Aaliyah.

“I was in the room when they got married. I’m not proud of that. I had papers forged for them when Aaliyah was underage.

“It was just a quick little ceremony, she didn’t have on a white dress. He didn’t have on a tux. Just everyday wear. She looked worried and scared.”

Prosecutors in R. Kelly’s trial claim he bribed a Chicago official to forge documents, with the marriage certificate stating Aaliyah’s age as 18.

Lawyers for R. Kelly — real name Robert Sylvester Kelly — denied underage sexual contact and said there is no proof Aaliyah was pregnant.

The marriage was annulled after a year and Aaliyah and her parents signed a later uncovered non-disclosure agreement.

It stated that Kelly would pay $100 to Aaliyah so she would cut ties with him and not mention the relationship again — although Kathy adds that the payment “off the book” was more likely to be $3million.


Describing the agreement’s terms, she says: “R. Kelly was not held accountable for anything that happened or may happen, even ‘emotional distress caused by any aspect of her business or personal relationship with Robert, or physical injury, or emotional pain and suffering from any assault or battery, perpetrated by Robert against her person’.”

Aaliyah cut all contact with him, but the relationship continued to haunt her.

Record company boss Damon Dash, who Aaliyah was dating at the time of her death, said she had tried to open up about the relationship but could only tell him that Kelly was a “bad man”.

Aaliyah was dating record company boss Damon Dash at the time of her tragic death


Aaliyah was dating record company boss Damon Dash at the time of her tragic deathCredit: Reuters

He previously said that he couldn’t watch Surviving R. Kelly because its interviews with visibly traumatised girls discussing Kelly reminded him of how Aaliyah behaved when trying to reveal her experiences.

Aaliyah’s cousin, Jomo Hankerson, has said she was “villainised” over the relationship, despite how young she was, and struggled to find a producer for her second album.

Eventually she signed with Atlantic Records and collaborated with up-and-coming artists Timbaland and Missy Elliot.

When her second album One In A Million was released, it was a huge hit, selling more than eight million copies worldwide.

Shortly after that she graduated from the Detroit School of Performing Arts and instantly launched an acting career, starring in the 2000 hit movie Romeo Must Die, opposite Jet Li.

Aaliyah performing with Jet Li in Romeo Must Die


Aaliyah performing with Jet Li in Romeo Must Die

Her second movie, the gothic horror Queen Of The Damned, came out a year after her death.

By 2001, she had the world at her feet with a third hit album, Aaliyah, and an up-and-coming Hollywood career, as well as a burgeoning romance with Dash.

Then tragedy struck.

On August 25, after filming the video for her track Rock The Boat in the Bahamas, Aaliyah and representatives of her record company arrived at Marsh Harbour Airport to fly to Florida.

The plane they had been allocated was a small Cessna 402 — not the bigger 404 they had arrived on — and the luggage loaded on was 700lb heavier than its legal allowance.

The pilot — not qualified to fly the aircraft — was later found to have cocaine and alcohol in his blood.

The overloaded jet crashed and burst into flames, killing all nine people on board.

The overloaded plane which crashed killing Aaliyah and nine others on board


The overloaded plane which crashed killing Aaliyah and nine others on boardCredit: AP

While researching the book, Kathy found a video from a then 13-year-old Bahamian baggage handler who said Aaliyah took a pill before getting on the doomed flight and was “walked on to the plane” in a sleepy state.

She adds: “Aaliyah had a real fear of flying, even on big Boeing jets, so when she saw this tiny Cessna and the cargo and all the people she didn’t want to board the plane.

“We were always told she was adamant about getting on that flight, because she desperately wanted to get home.

“But for someone with a fear of flying, who could see some of the ground staff were not happy with the plane taking off, that’s out of character. In fact, she locked herself in a taxi, said she had a headache and she was handed a pill, which she took.”

Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Gladys Knight, Lil’ Kim and Sean “Diddy” Combs were among those who gathered at the funeral. Twenty two white doves were released to symbolise each year of her life.

The inscription “Baby girl” appears on Aaliyah’s crypt in Ferncliff Cemetery, in Hartsdale, New York.

Following her death, artists including Chris Brown and Drake released posthumous collaborations, and two compilation albums were released.

This week, to mark the 20th anniversary of her death, One In A Million is appearing on streaming services for the first time.

Author Kathy says: “Now is the time to end the conversation between Aaliyah and R. Kelly and to focus on the fact that Aaliyah became her own icon. He does not deserve the credit.

“Aaliyah’s career was bookended with tragedy and that makes it harder to focus on all the exceptional things she did with music.

“But Aaliyah has an incredible legacy. She has a fan base that grows by the day, from kids who are 13 or 14 to people well into their 50s.

“She was a genius. And she was someone who set the tone for every form of popular music that we’re listening to today.”

Album finally online

ONE In A Million, Aailyah’s second album, is appearing for the first time on streaming services this week – ending years of contractual problems delaying its re-release.

It had been held back because of her family’s grief and complications between record labels over rights to her records.

The 1996 album sold more than eight million copies worldwide.

It was the follow-up to her 1994 debut Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number which she recorded when she was just 14, with R. Kelly writing and producing the tracks.

Author Kathy Iandoli says: “It’s amazing that we can finally stream One In A Million because all we were able to stream was the album that she shared with her abuser.

“Now we can hear the album she really worked hard to put out, with the help of producers who were willing to help her when people were closing doors on her.”

Her biggest selling single Try Again, produced by Timbaland, was released in 2000 as part of the soundtrack to the movie Romeo Must Die, in which she starred opposite Jet Li.

Aaliyah also modelled for Tommy Hilfiger.

Kathy says: “She was signed up to do two Matrix films, had been looking to collaborate with Trent Reznor on a rock album and was about to release a clothing and accessory line called Dolly Pop.

“We were probably going to see a similar career to Rihanna’s, combining all different worlds. She had a very bright future.”

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