Welcome to (Legal) Career Killers — a series that looks at how the law, lawyers or lawsuits killed a band’s or artist’s careers. In other words: They fought the law and the law won.
Americans love a good comeback story, and until recently, R&B superstar R. Kelly was in the midst of one of the most unlikely yet successful second acts in recent memory.
Accused of filming himself having sex with an underage girl, the hitmaker was acquitted on charges relating to child pornography in 2008. Kelly largely emerged unscathed. The self-proclaimed “King of R&B” subsequently reclaimed his throne, working with A-list singers, touring and receiving multiple Grammy nominations. Although a 2017 investigation published in Buzzfeed accusing the singer, songwriter and producer of holding underage girls captive in a sex cult resulted in some backlash, including streaming services refusing to promote his songs, Kelly kept his record deal, and more important, his freedom. Kelly may not have been able to fly, like he believed in his famous song, but it sure seemed as if he could do almost anything else, including dodge bullets.
But then the documentary Surviving R. Kelly premiered on Lifetime in January 2019. The six-part miniseries investigated the sex cult allegations while revisiting some older accusations against the singer, including those that led to the 2008 trial and his 1994 marriage to protegee Aaliyah, who was then 15 years old. Containing interviews with several former girlfriends, his ex-wife, family members and associates, the documentary succeeded in clipping Kelly’s wings. Days after the premiere, Georgia and Illinois opened criminal investigations and encouraged more victims to come forward. By the next month, Kelly had lost his record deal and been charged by the Cook County state’s attorney in Chicago with sex abuse. In July 2019, he got hit with federal sex abuse charges as well.
“I was so shocked that law enforcement got involved,” Surviving R. Kelly executive producer Tamra Simmons says. “We thought, ‘Maybe the families [of his accusers] could pursue legal action if and when they were reunited with their daughters.’ We knew there were certain laws that he had broken. What we didn’t know was if anyone would do anything about it.”Victor Li, “Reel Power: Documentaries are shaping public opinion and influencing cases,” ABA Journal, August-September 2020
Turns out, this time there were quite a few members of law enforcement who were willing to do something about it. As such, the only performances R. Kelly has to worry about for the next 20-30 years will be at his federal prison’s talent show — provided they have them.(more…)