The late superstar Aaliyah Dana Haughton, better known just by her first name, was one of the biggest R&B singers in the world. Affectionately referred to as the Princess of R&B — thanks to her multiple hits that attracted fans to the genre — she got her start on “Star Search” as a child in 1989 when she performed a stunning rendition of “My Funny Valentine.” As it turns out, Aaliyah even had musical legends in her family. Soul singer Gladys Knight was her aunt through marriage, as she was the wife of Aaliyah’s uncle, Barry Hankerson.
But it wasn’t just in the music world where Aaliyah made serious waves and grabbed attention. She’s also known for her big-time acting roles, as well as the impact she made on the fashion world both before and after her sad death at the age of just 22. But despite being one of the biggest stars in the world, Aaliyah’s short life and the years that followed were unfortunately filled with tragedy. Read on for all the details.
Aaliyah died in a horrifically tragic way
One of the most tragic parts of Aaliyah’s life was how short it was cut suddenly and in a horrific way. Aaliyah died at just 22 years old on August 25, 2001, in a plane crash as she was leaving the Bahamas where she’d been filming scenes for her music video, “Rock the Boat.” Per Biography, as Aaliyah and her team departed, their private plane crashed near the runway and caught fire, killing her and the eight other people on board. CNN revealed the cause of the accident was because the plane was “overloaded by hundreds of pounds” and the weight had not been distributed properly. It was also reported (via Urbo) that traces of cocaine and alcohol were found in the body of the late pilot and he was not licensed to fly that particular model of aircraft.
Immediately following her death, vigils were held across the country for the late star. Per ABC News, one of the biggest happened in Detroit (her hometown) where hundreds of mourners turned out to pay their respects.
In May 2002, Aaliyah’s parents filed a negligence lawsuit against operator Blackhawk International Airways Corp., Skystream Inc. and Gilbert Chacon, and Atlantic Flight Group. In 2003, they reached an undisclosed settlement (via Billboard), though, of course, no amount of money could ever bring the star back.
Much of Aaliyah's biggest musical success came after her death
Though Aaliyah saw a lot of success while she was alive, much of her impact on the music scene and beyond was actually made after her death — meaning she sadly never got to see it. Her first two albums, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” and “One in a Million,” saw moderate success on the Billboard Top 200, with both reaching a peak position of 18 (via Billboard), but it wasn’t until after her death that she got her first number one album.
Aaliyah’s self-titled third album was released in July 2001 and initially reached number two on the Billboard Top 200. However, after her death, Los Angeles Times reported that sales spiked 595%, and the album eventually hit the top spot. NME claimed in August 2012 that Aaliyah has sold 13 million copies worldwide.
Much of her award show success also came posthumously. Aaliyah won a few major awards before her death, but the bulk came in the four years that preceded it, as well as plenty of industry recognition and praise. That includes three American Music Awards, three Billboard Music Awards, and three Grammy nominations.
Aaliyah reportedly secretly married R Kelly when she was just 15
Much has been said about Aaliyah’s controversial relationship with R&B singer R. Kelly. The two are believed to have gotten legally married when she was only 15 and he was 27 after meeting when Aaliyah was just 12 years old. Kelly was accused in court of allegedly obtaining a fake ID for Aaliyah that claimed she was 18 (via The New York Times) and has also been accused of sexual assault against multiple others. Steven Greenberg, Kelly’s lawyer, said of his and Aaliyah’s relationship during a 2019 interview with Good Morning America, “My understanding is that she did not claim to be 15, and in order to get married, she had to lie about her age.” In a 1997 interview with Inside Edition, Aaliyah denied she and Kelly were married, though it’s believed they did legally marry and their union was annulled within months.
In the 2020 documentary “Surviving R Kelly Part II: The Reckoning,” Aaliyah’s boyfriend at the time of her death, Damon Dash, accused Kelly of abusing the singer. “Aaliyah was, like, the sacrificial lamb for all that because she didn’t deserve none of that. Good soul. Good girl. And [she] wasn’t even so resentful,” he claimed (via Independent), referring to other allegations made against Kelly. He then alleged that Aaliyah wanted nothing to do with Kelly after their controversial marriage and “was just happy to be away [from him].”
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Streaming services still don't carry all of Aaliyah's music
Sadly, those who didn’t get to experience Aaliyah’s music when it was first released can’t get familiar with her tracks on streaming services. There have been years of contention about Aaliyah’s music being available on-demand, and, as of April 2021, it’s still not possible to stream the albums “One in a Million,” “Aaliyah,” or her posthumous release, “I Care 4 U.” Only her debut album, 1994’s “Age is Nothing But A Number,” is available on big streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music. Per Talent Recap, Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson managed her music catalog, and Blackground Records, which he founded, stopped releasing music. Hankerson sold his stake in the company, which meant Aaliyah’s music fell into somewhat of a musical limbo.
But there seemed to be hope for streaming Aaliyah’s music in August 2020 when a message was posted to her official Twitter account, which is managed by her estate, offered fans hope. In a tweet addressed to Aaliyah’s “loyal fans,” her team confirmed “that communication has commenced between the estate and various record labels about the status of Aaliyah’s music catalog, as well as its availability on streaming platforms in the near future.” It looks like fans will have to watch this space when it comes to finally being able to listen to the star’s full albums on-demand.
Aaliyah never got to live up to her full potential beyond music
As well as her huge potential in the music world, Aaliyah could have used her voice for good and made a big impact on the social issues the world is still tackling. In 2020, the star’s former hairstylist and makeup artist Eric Ferrell revealed that the late star was outspoken about her views and wasn’t afraid to stand up for her beliefs. He claimed he believed Aaliyah would have not have supported the Trump administration and revealed how she stood up against injustice, particularly aimed at the LGBTQ+ community.
According to a screenshot shared by Instagram user @aaliyah_archives in June 2020, Ferrell claimed in an Instagram comment that Aaliyah “had very strong opinions about social issues” and was “very much a committed ally to the LGBTQ community.” He then recalled a time she made her beliefs very clear during an incident on the set of her 2000 movie “Romeo Must Die.” As Ferrell wrote, “She once very forcefully checked a fellow actor who was continually taunting a gay crew member on the set of Romeo because the man was flamboyant,” adding that Aaliyah supposedly “set him straight and made him apologize in front of the entire crew.”
Some of Aaliyah's biggest dreams never came true in her lifetime
As well as not being able to live up to her potential off-screen, Aaliyah tragically never got to see some of her biggest career dreams come true. According to CR, she wanted to start her own clothing line before her death and was supposedly on the brink of starting a Japanese-inspired clothing line. In the wake of her passing, Aaliyah’s name was attached to a number of fashion brands, one of which, unfortunately, caused controversy. In 2016, The Wrap reported that a clothing line featuring images of the late star was hit with a copyright lawsuit from a photographer who claimed his photo was used on an item without their permission. Aaliyah has also inspired a number of other ranges, including a streetwear collection launched in 2017.
Aaliyah also never got to see her acting career blossom in the way it could have. As well as making waves in the music world, her acting career was just getting off the ground and she had big things in the works before her death. In addition to appearing in the 2000 movie “Romeo Must Die” and 2002’s “Queen of the Damned,” CR reported she was offered a role in the 2001 movie Get Over It which eventually went to Zoe Saldana. She was set to appear in “The Matrix” franchise and, per MTV News, had already shot scenes for the 2003 sequel, “The Matrix Reloaded.”
Aaliyah had a very difficult time with her second album
Though it’s difficult to believe now that anyone didn’t want to work with Aaliyah, there was actually a time when the star was struggling to find producers to collaborate with. It’s said that she had a very difficult time getting her second album, “One In A Million,” off the ground following her relationship with R. Kelly. According to her cousin Jomo Hankerson, Aaliyah was “villainized” for their relationship. “That’s what made the transition to the second album very difficult. We were coming off of a multi-platinum debut album and except for a few relationships with Jermaine Dupri and Puffy, it was hard for us to get producers on the second record,” he claimed in a 2014 radio interview with V-103.
It’s thought Puffy (aka Diddy) potentially had plans to work on the album, which fell through. In the end, Aaliyah worked with producer Timbaland and Missy Elliott, who were relatively unknown at the time, but have since gone on to become household names.
The album went on to see great success, too. The Hollywood Reporter claimed that “One In A Million” had sold 8 million copies worldwide as of August 2011, and was certified double platinum in 1997 (per RIAA). She also earned a Grammy nomination for one of its singles, “Try Again.”
Aaliyah could have gotten her happy ever after with Damon Dash
Following her controversial relationship with R. Kelly, it seems Aaliyah was almost about to get her happy ending with record executive Damon Dash. The two met around 2000 and Dash has revealed on multiple occasions how serious and happy their relationship was, hinting a proposal wasn’t far away.
“Our time together meant so much that when we got more time, we felt like that [engagement] would be next,” he said during an interview with Billboard’s Juice in 2011, calling her “one of the best people I ever met.” He also opened up about their chemistry, saying, “The energy we created together for people to observe was kind of crazy,” admitting they could be in a room of people but it felt like they were the only two people there. “It was like something was going down in history every time I was with her. Every time I was around her I felt it was the place to be,” Dash said. He added, that “even with the pain [he] felt” following her tragic death, he “would do it all over again.”
Dash went on to marry fashion designer Rachel Roy in 2005 and the two share two children together, but split in 2009 (via Daily News). Dash also shares sons with his former girlfriends Linda Williams and Cindy Morales. He welcomed his fifth child, his first with his fiancée Raquel Horn, in November 2020, confirming the news on Instagram.
Those closest to Aaliyah believe she's been exploited
Some of those closest to Aaliyah believe the star and her legacy have been exploited following her death. The late star has been the subject of multiple documentaries and biopics, with Timbaland describing Lifetime’s 2014 movie, “Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B,” as being “disrespectful.” The producer slammed the production in multiple messages and memes on his Instagram page in November 2014, per BBC. He claimed the biopic showed why “people should never remake movies” and also suggested those behind the project would “feel [his] wrath” after its release. He also criticized the casting and made it clear he wasn’t happy with the actor who portrayed him in the production. Notably, Aaliyah’s family also did not approve of the movie and didn’t allow the filmmakers the right to include Aaliyah’s music.
But that’s not the only time Aaliyah’s story has been accused of being exploited. Damon Dash also claimed his relationship with the late star was used for ratings when he appeared on the reality series “Growing Up Hip Hop.” In a video posted to Instagram in July 2020, he accused the president of eOne’s unscripted television department of “trying to exploit [his] story with Aaliyah for [Lifetime].” In the clip, he could be heard shouting, “You think you’re going to f**king exploit me when it comes to Aaliyah?” before he quit the show.
Aaliyah's funeral caused a race row
Sadly for Aaliyah and her closest friends and family, she wasn’t even able to be laid to rest in peace. The star’s funeral took place in New York City on August 31, 2001 and saw a hearse drawn by horses lead her body through the streets of the Upper East Side. The ceremony also saw 22 white doves released in tribute to her. A columnist for the New York Post, Rod Dreher, suggested the funeral was “too much” and controversially described the late Aaliyah as an “undistinguished singer of forgettable pop songs,” while calling her funeral a “tasteless gesture.”
Reverend Al Sharpton had a lot to say about the comments and shared his belief the remarks were racially motivated. Speaking at a tribute to the star in Harlem (via NME), Sharpton made his feelings about the column very clear. He told the crowd, “I’m outraged, and I think all decent people are outraged. We will bring down anybody who tells us how to mourn our own.” He then shared his sentiments that the New York Post should take action against the journalist for what he claimed were “shocking and racist” remarks. However, the Editor-in-chief at the time, Col Allan, disagreed and claimed Dreher “had a right to express an opinion.”
Aaliyah had to deal with haters growing up
Though she went on to be one of the most adored stars in the world, Aaliyah had to deal with bullies growing up. It was reported that the late singer experienced mean girls in middle school and shared some advice on how she dealt with the hateful comments. According to The Wild Cat Voice, Aaliyah opened up about how she got past the negativity in an interview and revealed that she used to turn her back on the haters.
“You always have to deal with people who are jealous, but there were so few it didn’t even matter,” she said while sharing her experience with bullies before finding fame. She added that “the majority of kids” she went to school with were supportive of her, which she called “wonderful,” but admitted she’d learned not to let the nasty comments get to her. “When it comes to dealing with negative people, I just let it in one ear and out the other. Those people are invisible to me,” she said.
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