Lifetime's 'Surviving R. Kelly': A Guide to the Docuseries' Troubling Allegations
Lifetime's gut-wrenching Surviving R. Kelly documentary debuted Thursday night (Jan. 4), despite pressure from R. Kelly's legal team who reportedly threatened to sue the network for running the six-part series executive produced by dream hampton. Lifetime, however, continued to air the chilling documentary into the weekend.
Surviving R. Kelly features more than 50 testimonies from journalists, family, fellow musicians and members of Kelly's circle throughout his career who came forward to share their experiences.
Plagued by claims of abuse throughout his career, Kelly firmly denies any wrongdoing and has not been convicted in a court of law. Reps for Kelly declined to comment about the series when Billboard reached out. After unpacking the six hours of dense content, here are 10 key takeaways from Lifetime's Surviving R. Kelly.
1. R. Kelly was molested as a kid starting at age seven.
Robert Kelly grew up in the inner-city projects of Chicago as one of four children in the Kelly family. His father wasn't in the picture from a young age. Early on in episode one, titled "The Pied Piper of R&B," the Chicago-bred singer explained in a 2002 interview with Tavis Smiley that he had wrongly been exposed to sex from an early age.
"I'm not going to throw any of my family under the bus, but I feel I owe my fans at least enough of an understanding to what I went through. Yes, I was molested from 7 on to 13 or 14 or something like that, by people in my family," Kelly admitted. "Sexually, it woke up my hormones a lot earlier than they were supposed to be awakened."
Another graphic with a quote from the Chocolate Factory artist later in the episode ran across the screen reading, "As a kid, I had lots of secrets. Some were terrible, some were beautiful, some were both. One secret was about what was happening to me at home."
2. Legal documents were reportedly forged in R. Kelly's marriage to Aaliyah making her look 18 years old when she was only 15.
One of R. Kelly's former personal assistants and tour managers, Demetrius Smith, explained that he actually had legal documents forged to make Aaliyah pose as an 18-year-old (she was really 15 at the time) so her private marriage to Kelly in Aug. 1994, who was 12 years her elder, could be legitimized by the Cook County courts of Illinois. Vibe Magazine published the secretive paperwork in their Dec. 1994 issue. Their union was quickly annulled.
3. R. Kelly's former personal assistant claims Kelly thought he got Aaliyah pregnant.
Prior to the airing of Surviving R. Kelly, one of the trailers featured a former backup singer, Jovante Cunningham, alleging that she saw Kelly having sex with Aaliyah on their tour bus one night when the door to his bedroom accidentally swung open. When the premiere episode detailed Kelly's scandalous relationship with the teenage sensation, Demetrius Smith got emotional when he reflected on the time Kelly allegedly came to him fearing that he got Aaliyah pregnant. "'Man, we got Aaliyah in trouble. I think she’s pregnant,'" Smith claims Kelly told him.
4. Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone," which Kelly wrote, is allegedly about a teenager Kelly impregnated who later had a miscarriage.
R. Kelly wrote MJ's last No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "You Are Not Alone." According to Lizzette Martinez, the song is about Kelly impregnating her while she was just a senior in high school. Martinez also claimed that she caught mono from the singer, which ended up putting her in the ICU for two weeks since it wasn't treated properly. Martinez miscarried, and she alleges Kelly sent the Martinez family a $1,000 check to help with hospital bills.
5. He married Andrea Lee in a hotel room.
Portrayed as a master manipulator by the series, Surviving R. Kelly details how he was able to keep his multitude of relationships with various women separate from each another. During the second episode, Andrea Lee detailed the "Ignition" singer's controlling ways when he proposed to her and had a subsequent wedding inside the confines of their small Denver hotel room in 1996. Lee explained that none of their family members would be in attendance for the ceremony and her communication with the outside world significantly decreased after tying the knot. The couple would go on to have three kids throughout their turbulent relationship before she finally had enough and filed for divorce and a restraining order in 2005, though she left him even earlier.
6. Lee moved to Florida, where she nearly lost their unborn son and contemplated suicide.
Before divorcing Kelly, Andrea reached her boiling point in 2002 when her husband moved her from Chicago to Florida without an explanation. The actress remembers being pregnant and Kelly allegedly ordering his security guards to make the trip with her by bus across the nation, causing an extreme amount of unneeded stress. She says the trauma nearly resulted in the couple losing their unborn son; Andrea would be induced into early labor to save the life of Robert Kelly Jr., whose heart beat couldn't be detected by doctors. Fortunately, the birth of their third child would be a successful one.
Just days later, Andrea found out that her husband had been arrested on child pornography charges via the evening news. Even with three kids at home, the outside pressure -- combined with Robert's treatment -- almost pushed her to commit suicide. "I remember going out on the balcony and climbing up on the ledge, like, ‘God, I can’t take another day. I can’t do this anymore,'" she said during the doc's third installment. "He had taken me to a place where I was willing to leave my babies."
After deciding against it, she turned to the National Domestic Violence Awareness Hotline. "I went to the National Domestic Violence Awareness Hotline, and there are 17 questions. There was only two things on that list that Robert hadn’t done to me," she said. Andrea left the star musician with just $2,500, her kids, and a duffel bag.
7. R. Kelly reportedly offered six-figure sums to his brother and singer Sparkle.
Once the Rated R. Kelly Triple XXX child pornography tape leaked, which ultimately led to his arrest in 2002, Kelly was in full crisis mode to save his public image and music career (he was eventually acquitted). Surviving R. Kelly alleges that numerous victims and people with information against him were often offered money. This even applied to his younger brother, Carey. According to his other brother Bruce, who defends R. Kelly, Robert offered Carey $100,000 and promised him a record deal if he refuted claims about R. Kelly's history of abuse in a deposition with law enforcement. He never ended up taking his brother up on the offer.
In court in 2008, Sparkle alleged the 14-year-old girl in the sex tape was her niece, who was introduced to Kelly at just age 12. "The People vs. R. Kelly" went in-depth on Kelly's trial. Sparkle claims that the "I Believe I Can Fly" artist made her a lucrative six-figure offer to do a joint press conference with him, where she would say that all was good between the two. Sparkle says she couldn't sell herself out like that with the thought of her being the one to introduce her niece to the alleged pedophile brewing on her conscience. "I didn’t take the money, because I can’t be bought," she said. "I really don’t know if my family was paid off. I know the family was still hanging out with him. My brother-in-law was still playing guitar on a lot of his songs."
8. He allegedly took a 16-year-old's virginity during the 2008 child pornography trial.
One would think that Kelly would shy away from any communication with teenage girls while fighting child pornography charges. During the 2008 trial, a barrage of teen fans came to his aide to cheer him on while entering and leaving each of his courthouse hearings. Fourteen-year-old mega fan Jerhonda Pace had repeated encounters outside court with her favorite artist at the time. Meeting R. Kelly would forever change her life's path. About two years later, she's said to have received a text from someone affiliated to Kelly, saying he wanted to invite her to his suburban Illinois mansion.
Pace would show up the same day of Kelly's 2009 Untitled album listening party at his luxurious safari-themed home. She alleges that he tried to establish a connection by confiding in her about the sexual abuse he endured as a child, finding out that Pace went through something similar growing up. "He talked about being molested as well, and he told me he was molested by an older guy in his neighborhood," said Pace. "I felt like we had a connection, because I told him I was sexually abused when I was 4, 6, and 8-years-old." When Pace told Kelly she was a virgin, she says he responded with, "Well, that’s perfect. That means I get to train you and I get to take your virginity," she said. "That’s when he proceeded to do oral sex on me. And he told me to do the same thing on him."
9. Women are allegedly still being abused as part of his "sex cult" to this day.
Many parents who haven't seen their daughters in years thanks to their association with R. Kelly are introduced during the "All the Missing Girls" installment of the documentary. Joycelyn Savage originally met Kelly as a 19-year-old college student in Atlanta in 2015. Her parents are still searching for her and the only contact they've had since 2016 was through a TMZ video, where she claims that she's okay and isn't being held against her will. A former employee of Kelly's, who remains anonymous throughout the series, believes that the TMZ stunt was scripted by Kelly to sway public opinion.
"When the Savages first came out, talking about Joycelyn, R. Kelly had meetings to strategize to fix the situation. The first thing was to put Joycelyn in front of the camera on TMZ, which is something he ordinarily would not have done," he claims. "As far as the video Joycelyn Savage made, I would say that it was scripted, because Robert does not allow those girls to say anything that he has not told them to say."
Kelly has reportedly maintained relationships with numerous women he's allegedly brainwashed. Kitti Jones is a survivor that originally met R. Kelly in Dallas back in 2011, where she would go on to be one of his many girlfriends at the time. Things changed for Jones when she viewed Kelly's infamous 2002 sex tape, and says she recognized the underage girl molested in the video as someone she met at Kelly's home during their time together. She left him in 2013 and told Rolling Stone about his alleged abuse in 2017.
10. Chance The Rapper regrets making a song with R. Kelly.
Chance The Rapper brought out R. Kelly during his Coachella set in 2014, and later collaborated with his fellow Chi-town native alongside Jeremih on 2015's "Somewhere In Paradise." Toward the end of the final "Black Girls Matter" episode, Lifetime plays a clip from a Cassius interview with Chano speaking on his regrets of working with Kelly. "Making a song with R. Kelly was a mistake. I didn’t value the accusers’ stories because they were black women. I made a mistake," he admits.
"At the time, it wasn’t even present in my mind that people could feel any type of way about his presence on a track of mine. Here’s the thing: I think for a long time I was only able to understand R. Kelly’s situation and presence in the world when it comes down to his trial and his accusations and his accusers as a victim. I don’t know if that’s because I’m from Chicago or ‘cause he made great music or ‘cause he is a black man." With his quote circulating the internet, the 25-year-old tweeted out a clarification note regarding the context of his statements on Saturday (Jan. 5), which were intended to show empathy for the black women victims.
Anybody needing help is prompted to call The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE to speak with someone and receive proper treatment.