In 1994, a 27-year-old R. Kelly married his then 15-year-old protégé, Aaliyah, in a secret ceremony.
Though little has been reported about their brief marriage over the years, in Lifetime’s new six-part docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, premiering Thursday, viewers will learn disturbing new details about Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah.
According to one of Kelly’s former backup singers, Jovante Cunningham, Kelly used to have sex with Aaliyah while others were present.
“We were out on the road with Aaliyah,” Cunningham recounted on Surviving R. Kelly. “On a tour bus, there really aren’t many confined spaces. When you get on the bus there are bunks and so these bunks have little curtains you can pull at night if you don’t want anybody to see you sleeping.”
“So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing,” Cunningham continued. “When the [room] door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah.”
R. Kelly, now 51, has long denied reports that he and Aaliyah wed, saying instead that the two were close friends. In 2016, the R&B singer told GQ magazine that he “will never have that conversation with anyone.”
“Out of respect for Aaliyah, and her mother and father who has asked me not to personally,” he continued. “But I can tell you I loved her, I can tell you she loved me, we was very close. We were, you know, best best best best friends.”
Aaliyah died in 2001 at the age of 22.
During the docuseries, however, Demetrius Smith, Kelly’s former personal assistant, also recalled that at one point, the singer had worried he’d gotten Aaliyah pregnant.
“Robert came to me, we were in Miami. Robert said, ‘Man we got Aaliyah in trouble,’” Smith said.
When asked Kelly to explain, Smith said he wasn’t ready for the answer.
“Robert mentioned to me that ‘I think she’s pregnant,’” Smith continued. “That broke my heart right there because I really believed him when he said that he wasn’t messing with Aaliyah…Once he told me that I was at a loss for words.”
Smith also shared new information about Kelly and Aaliyah’s wedding day.
“I was in the room when they got married. I’m not proud of that,” Smith admitted. “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.”
Along with recounting R. Kelly’s long-rumored relationship with the late Aaliyah, Surviving R. Kelly also includes more than 50 interviews with Kelly’s victims, former associates, and family members, who openly discuss the singer’s alleged sexual misconduct, which he has continuously denied.