Dark secrets R. Kelly tried to hide

Robert "R." Kelly is perhaps the most controversial figure in the music industry. His signature style of blending bizarrely explicit R&B sex ballads with inspirational gospel songs has drawn intense criticism while paradoxically also propelling him to superstardom. But the true divide in the public perception of Kelly is not over the kinky crooner's lyrics. Starting with his scandalous rumored marriage to Aaliyah when she was just 15 years old, Kelly has remained a headline regular regarding questions about his alleged preference for sex with underage girls. The most infamous was his acquittal of 14 child pornography charges in 2008, but that certainly wasn't the last word on the subject. Since then, he's continued to produce music and tour, but not without a few major hiccups.

The Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly brought back a slew of once-buried and never before revealed allegations against the singer, with accusations ranging from sexual abuse to domestic violence to holding underage girls and young women hostage. Kelly has denied all of the allegations against him. TMZ reported that sources close to the singer claim he didn't watch the series, but he still plans to sue everyone involved with it in an attempting to discredit all of the brave women and girls who've come forward with allegations against him.

Here are some of the stories and alleged skeletons that R. Kelly has tried to keep in his closet.

There was more to the story with his divorce

Not long after the end of his late 2008 child pornography trial, which we'll get to momentarily, R. Kelly and his wife, Andrea Lee Kelly, finalized their divorce. Their marriage, like every other aspect of the singer's life, was not without a significant degree of drama. In 2005, Andrea filed for a restraining order against Robert, claiming he hit her on multiple occasions. She later let the restraining order expire instead of filing for an extension. In a Spring 2007 interview with Essence, Andrea shrugged off a question about the restraining order as "old news," and denied the couple's then-separation had anything to do with the child pornography case. "I'm no fair-weather wife," she said. At the time Andrea maintained they simply grew apart, but they were trying to make the relationship work.

By 2018, Andrea joined her voice to the chorus of her ex-husband's accusers, finally revealing to The View that Robert was abusive to her on multiple occasions. Andrea claimed that he physically assaulted her in the back of a Hummer, and even once "hogtied" her by binding her hands to her feet, all of which tragically led to her contemplating suicide. As for why she decided to speak out when she did, Andrea expressed via Instagram that she was shamed and coerced into silence for a long time, but that she wanted to help other victims of domestic abuse find the strength to break free from it and speak their own truth. 

He revealed a lot in his book

Written in his signature style of stream-of-consciousness prose, R. Kelly's memoir, Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me, has too many odd and random tidbits to list. For example, he spends a lot of time in the book detailing his love of McDonald's, to the point where he refers to it as "the place that gives me comfort in times of trouble." The fast food joint was even the first stop Kelly made after winning his child pornography trial. He also makes several dark revelations, such as the claim that he witnessed his 8-year-old girlfriend, Lulu, drown in a river when he was a child, and the fact that he was a victim of repeated sexual abuse starting when he was 8 years old.

Sadly, there are even more disturbing passages relating to Kelly's childhood trauma. First, he recounts a time when, as a child, he peeked in on two adults having sex. When they caught him watching, instead of being mortified, they invited him to watch them finish, and even take photos of them in the act. From there, Kelly claims an older women in the house started physically molesting him, according to LA Weekly. It was a sad glimpse into a past that many viewed as a logical puzzle piece regarding his own history of sexual misconduct allegations.

Reporters brought his sordid history to light

In his role as a music critic, Jim DeRogatis spent years covering R. Kelly for the Chicago Sun-Times. Throughout his tenure there, he wrote piece after piece detailing charges brought against Kelly over not just the video recordings at the center of the child pornography trial, but also dozens of additional accusations of statutory rape. In 2013, DeRogatis sat down with The Village Voice reporter Jessica Hopper and laid it all on the table in an effort to try to understand why the general public, in particular Kelly's loyal fan base, didn't seem to mind.

"I think in the end there were two dozen women with various level of details. Obviously the women who were part of the hundreds of pages of lawsuits — hell of a lot of details. There were girls who just told one simple story, and there were a lot of girls who told stories that lasted hours which still make me sick to my stomach. It never was one girl on one tape. Or one girl and Aaliyah," DeRogatis said. Like Hannibal Buress' now infamous 2014 stand-up show in Philly that unearthed Bill Cosby's previously buried rape allegations, DeRogatis' piece trained a spotlight on the the singer's scandals.

Kelly characteristically downplayed the bombshell report, telling Atlanta's V-103 (via HuffPost), "Well I feel like I got the football man, I'm running towards the touchdown and stopping and looking back, mess around, I'll get tackled." He may have been onto something there.

His problematic tell-all article for GQ

R. Kelly did himself no favors during what was supposed to be a tell-all GQ interview in 2016. Instead of offering candid confessions or apologies, Kelly rambled through many contradictory statements, and got caught in a giant lie. He even repeated the same defense he's been using for years in the face of multiple accusations that he had sex with underage girls: They were all liars and extortionists, and he only settled with them on the advice of his lawyers, which he now regrets.

Kelly also tripped himself up by absolving his own alleged abusers, admitting that he recognizes that sexual abuse is cyclical. As such, he assumed that his abusers had themselves been abused at one time, which is an astounding admission for him to make, since by his own logic, it would stand to reason that he would then become a sexual assailant at some point. He explained that away by saying that poverty is also a cycle from which he broke free, so ditto for the sexual abuse stuff.

Then there was the outright lie in which Kelly claimed he was at his beloved mother's bedside when she died. He told this story differently, however, in both his book and a Vibe interview, claiming he received a phone call notifying him that she had passed. Call us crazy, but lying about your mom's death is probably the last thing you should do in the middle of your soul-bearing attempt to set the record straight on your shady past.

He's accused of leading a 'cult' of women

In July 2017, BuzzFeed reported that three sets of parents claimed Kelly was holding their daughters in a "cult" in his Atlanta and Chicago homes, controlling everything from how they communicate to what they eat, as well as videotaping their sexual encounters. In the report, Kelly's former personal assistant, Cheryl Mack, described Kelly as "a master at mind control" and "a puppet master."

Two former lovers of Kelly corroborated the parents' claims, alleging Kelly also physically abused the women if they dared to be too polite to any male in their presence. The young women were reportedly brought to Kelly by their parents who wanted to help their children find success in the music industry. Kelly then allegedly "brainwashed" them.

Kelly was also accused restricting the women's cell phone usage, forbidding them from contacting family or friends without his blessing, and leaving his property without permission. Kelly allegedly also controls the way the females dress and even makes them receive permission to use the restroom. At least one of the women has spoken out multiple times, denying she's being held hostage, but more on that in a moment.

Kelly has vehemently denied all of the allegations. His lawyer told People, "Mr. Robert Kelly is both alarmed and disturbed at the recent revelations attributed to him. Mr. Kelly unequivocally denies such allegations and will work diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name."

More cult accusations surfaced

One of the so-called survivors of R. Kelly's alleged sex cult, Jerhonda Pace, made it clear that she was not with the singer because she wanted to be, but because she'd been manipulated and abused into submission.

"I felt like a prisoner. I didn't have anyone to talk to. It was just me. I went into a depression," she said on the 2019 Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly (via The Root). "I was mentally drained, because he would break me down, then build me up, then make me feel like s**t again, then do it all over again. He would really manipulate my mind. The breaking point for me was when Rob slapped me, and he choked me until I blacked out."

Other survivors on the show, as well as alleged victim Azriel Clary's sister, A'Iceis, also confirmed that not only did the women and girls living with Kelly have to ask permission to use the bathroom, but they also had to relieve themselves in buckets — and that the buckets could only ever be emptied with the express permission of the "Ignition" singer.

Connections to his alleged sex tape lingered for years

According to Time, the main reason a jury acquitted R. Kelly on child pornography charges stemming from a sex tape he allegedly made with a 14-year-old girl was because the alleged victim denied that she was the girl in the video. As of this writing, that girl has never been officially identified, although singer Sparkle publicly alleged that the underage victim was her niece. Kelly also denied that it was him on the tape.  

Kelly's denial was challenged again in Surviving R. Kelly (via USA Today), when a woman named Kitti Jones, who claimed she dated Kelly when she was 33 in 2011, said that she recognized the girl from the video as a girl Kelly had introduced her to around the time they dated.

"A friend of mine had said, 'Have you ever watched the sex tape?' And I was furious with her and felt disrespected because at this point, this is my boyfriend … But my curiosity kind of got the best of me, and I Googled it," Jones said in the docuseries. "I knew immediately it was the same woman. I didn't know how to feel. I guess I felt like I was tricked into something."

Jones alleged (via The Root) that when she confronted Kelly about his relationship with the girl from the tape that he became physically abusive.

There may be multiple sex tapes

R. Kelly accuser Laura Van Allen alleged in Surviving R. Kelly (via Rolling Stone) that she made several explicit videos with the singer. She expressed that she never actually gave consent to be filmed because he never asked permission, but also said that he never hid what he was doing from her. Kitti Jones made similar allegations in a 2017 interview with the magazine.

Reporter Jim DeRogatis, who chronicled Kelly's sex crime allegations for years, told The Village Voice it wasn't just the volume and number of sex tapes Kelly filmed, but the content that was allegedly within them that was so disturbing.

"The videotapes — and not just one videotape, numerous videotapes. And not Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson, Kardashian fun video," DeRogatis said. He then described the acts on on particular tape as "a rape," adding, "so we're not talking about rock star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We're talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined. Read the lawsuits!"

He allegedly made one victim dress like a boy

On Surviving R. Kelly (via Complex), one of the singer's "former employees" said that not only does R. Kelly control what his women wear, he even convinced one of them, Dominique Gardner, to shave her head and behave as his "boy toy."

"To Robert, Dominique is, like, the rebellious one. She stays in trouble to him. She's a little tomboyish, and Robert plays on that, so he has molded her into the boy he wants her to be," the employee, who chose to remain anonymous, said. "So he's had her shave all her hair off, and she carries herself like a boy. He's even had her dress in boy clothes and paint a beard and moustache on to look like a boy. So he treats her like his boy toy."

According to USA Today, Gardner fled from Kelly during an episode of Surviving R. Kelly at the urging of her mother. As of this writing, she is still back at home with her family. 

Does he have dirty cop friends?

Angelo and Alice Clary, the parents of Azriel Clary, said on Surviving R. Kelly (via USA Today) that they attempted to work with the family of Joycelyn Savage to help their daughters escape from what they interpreted to be an alleged hostage situation in which Kelly kept the girls against their wills. (Savage famously released a video denying that she was part of any such cult.) The young women's families reportedly urged the Chicago Police Department to conduct welfare checks on the girls at Kelly's Windy City studio, but a former employee of the singer claimed that the cops whose very jobs it was to protect and serve may have been protecting and serving Kelly instead of the young women.

The anonymous employee alleged, "I was told about the wellness checks being done at the house in Atlanta as well as the studio in Chicago. R. Kelly knew about the wellness check in Chicago before it happened because he has friends in the police department in Chicago who warned him."

Savage and Clary's parents each said on the show (via Complex) that they haven't seen their daughters in more than two years.

His team allegedly helped him falsify documents to marry Aaliyah

One of R. Kelly's former employees claimed that he helped forge documents so that the "Step in the Name of Love" singer could marry Aaliyah when she was just 15 years old. Kelly's former personal assistant, Demetrius Smith, confessed on Surviving R. Kelly (via People), "Robert came to me, we were in Miami. Robert said, 'Man we got Aaliyah in trouble.' … Robert mentioned to me that 'I think she's pregnant.' That broke my heart right there because I really believed him when he said that he wasn't messing with Aaliyah."

Smith wasn't upset enough to stop Kelly from allegedly preying on the then-15-year-old songbird. "I was in the room when they got married. I'm not proud of that," he said. "I had papers forged for them when Aaliyah was underaged. 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." 

Despite an alleged marriage license leaking to The Blast and one of Kelly's backup singers saying she witnessed Kelly having sex with the underage Aaliyah, Aaliyah's mother supposedly issued a blistering statement, denying the backup singer's claim. However, The Source reported that, as of this writing, that statement has "only been confirmed by fans of the late singer." 

His enablers allegedly helped him find young girls

On Surviving R. Kelly (via Rolling Stone), several witnesses and former R. Kelly associates accused the singer's team of "recruiting teenagers"  for him. Kelly would allegedly take trips to shopping malls in every city in which he performed in order to meet young girls, and another witness claimed that Kelly would come to her high school girls' basketball games to watch a girl in which he was allegedly interested in grooming.

Kelly's team members alleged in the docuseries that the singer had beds in every room of his Chicago recording studio, with one of his former backup singers, Jovante Cunningham, alleging that Kelly sexually violated a friend of hers when she and her friend were just teenagers at the time. Complex reported that Kelly was also accused of picking out young girls at his concerts.

Kelly's own brother, Bruce Kelly, said from prison on the show (via People) that Robert likes "younger women," but didn't see it as a big deal.

"You have people who have fantasies about different things. I like older women, go figure, you know," Bruce said. "But that's just a preference. Everyone has preferences. So what is the big deal? What is the big issue with my brother?

The HuffPost Live disaster

With the newly refreshed discussion of his seedy past once again in the public discourse, R. Kelly found it difficult to operate out of his usual playbook, which was to deny everything and divert attention back to his music. In one particularly awkward confrontation, HuffPost Live host Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani asked Kelly how he felt about fans who were conflicted about continuing to support him in the wake of the allegations.

According to Jezebel, Modarressy-Tehrani shared a tweet from a fan that read, "Would I let R. Kelly babysit my daughters? F**k no. Would I play his music at a family party? Ya gotdamn right." Kelly replied, "I say f**k that. I say I have a lot of fans around the world that love R. Kelly and I'm glad that they don't feel the way she do, God bless her. But you can't satisfy everybody and you're not gonna always have everybody to hold you down, you know."

From there, the interview quickly deteriorated into Kelly bizarrely complementing Modarressy-Tehrani by calling her intelligent and beautiful, while simultaneously accusing her of interrogating him and focusing on "the negative." It's also worth noting that when Kelly leaves the interview, which he does abruptly in the middle of a question, he states in perfectly odd R. Kelly fashion that he's going directly to McDonald's where "hopefully the McRib is out." The full interview can be seen here, and it's worth a watch. Giant popcorn bucket not included. 

He created a scandalous song with Lady Gaga

Two months before the 2013 piece in The Village Voice was published, Lady Gaga and R. Kelly shot a video for their song, "Do What U Want." Just as a refresher, the song includes the lyrics, "You can't have my heart / And you won't use my mind but / Do what you want with my body." According to Page Six, the video was directed by Terry Richardson, who at the time was fighting his own accusations of sexual misconduct, and featured Kelly playing a doctor who tells his patient (Gaga), "I'm putting you under, and when you wake up, you're going to be pregnant." Not surprisingly, that video was never released.

Obviously, it was going to be problematic to have to promote such a sexually explicit video while one of its performers was being publicly accused of sex crimes. According to Gaga, who is a survivor of sexual assault, that wasn't ever a consideration. She blamed the video's demise on mismanagement by her team, which was a cop-out pretty much no one believed. Gaga and Kelly did perform the song on both SNL and at the 2013 American Music Awards, although neither showing featured the questionable doctor routine. At the AMAs, President R. Kelly squatted over Lady Gaga on a fake oval office desk instead, so go ahead and interpret that artistic impression however you'd like.

He dated a 19-year-old when he was 49

The Daily Beast reported that R. Kelly was allegedly dating another teenager in August 2016 (Kelly celebrated his 50th birthday in 2017). He reportedly met 19-year-old model Halle Calhoun at a show in North Carolina. He then popped up several times in since-deleted posts on Instagram, including in a picture where she was in a hot tub in a bikini with him, so at that point, it was at least fair to assume they were hanging out socially. After they were spotted holding hands at an Atlanta nightclub, the pair had seemingly gone public with their relationship. 

And look, while we know it is perfectly legal for a 19-year-old to date a man 31 years her senior, it was kind of disturbing when that man happened to be R. Kelly, right? Given his alleged history, whether you believe it or not, the controversy factor here was through the roof. But the flame of scandal burned out quickly when Calhoun announced (via The Shade Room) in April 2018 that she was no longer with Kelly, because she "wasn't with his type of bulls**t he be on." Granted, that's a vague statement from an ex, but it certainly doesn't denote an amicable breakup, especially combined with her praise for her new man, rapper Rocko, who she comparatively called "a real one." 

Did he make women sign nondisclosure agreements?

Jerhonda Pace told Buzzfeed in August 2017 that she was 16 when she engaged in a "traumatizing" sexual relationship with Kelly, a claim the site said was corroborated by several people close to Pace, as well as "legal documents," proof of "a civil settlement, and a subsequent payment made by Kelly's management company to Pace," and "a polygraph test performed at the request of [Pace's] attorney regarding her relationship with Kelly."

Pace admitted that she'd lied about her age when she first met Kelly (at his child pornography trial, no less) and began to have sex with him, but that when she later revealed her age, he told her to lie and say she was 19 but "act 25." Pace described signing non-disclosure agreements and letters saying she stole property from Kelly, even though she didn't, which is an alleged practice Kelly repeated with multiple women, according to an anonymous employee who spoke out on Surviving R. Kelly (via USA Today). Pace also alleged that Kelly filmed their sexual encounters without her consent and physically and mentally abused her.

Kelly's reps refuted the tale as claims "made by individuals known to be dishonest." The reps also told Buzzfeed, "The allegations against Mr. Kelly are false. … Mr. Kelly again denies any and all wrongdoing and is taking appropriate legal action to protect himself from ongoing defamation."

As legal problems mount, Kelly loses his cool

In February 2019, R. Kelly was charged with "10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse" involving "4 alleged victims," reported TMZ. The site noted that "9 of the 10 counts involve alleged victims ranging in age from 13 to 16 years old." In March 2019, Kelly appeared on CBS This Morning with Gayle King, where he sobbed, shrieked, and denied the allegations against him. He also addressed his relationship with live-in girlfriends Joycelyn Savage and Azriel Clary, whose parents he claim manipulated his relationship with their daughters for money. When King noted that Savage and Clary are much younger than him, Kelly replied, "I don't look at much younger than me. I just look at legal."

The same week that the interview aired, Kelly was arrested for allegedly not paying $161,633 in back child support to his ex-wife, Andrea "Drea" Kelly — the mother of his three children. TMZ reported that Drea claimed the singer forced her to stop working after she had her first child, which made his child support payments integral to provide for their kids. Kelly reportedly wants to reduce his payments, blaming his problems, in part, on people stealing his money. Kelly told King that Drea is hurting his ability to pay child support because her abuse allegations (which he claims are untrue) have made it hard for him to get work and build a relationship with his kids.