Aaliyah: 7 Things To Know About The Beloved, Late Singer And Actress

Aaliyah in Romeo Must Die

In the hall of fame of artists who achieved so much in so little time before tragedy prevented them from doing more, it would be unjust if Aaliyah were left off of that list. The influential, chart-topping R&B singer and up-and-coming actress was 22 when a plane crash from a Bahamas music video shoot took her life on August 25, 2001.

Born Aaliyah Dana Haughton on January 16, 1979, the talented star was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Detroit, Michigan, better known in music fans as “Motown,” which one can imagine had a profound impact on her influences as an artist. After gaining popularity in the music industry in her teens following her 1994 debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, Aaliyah’s acting career began to take off in 2000 with the romantic action thriller Romeo Must Die, opposite Jet Li, before she became royalty in her favorite film genre as the title character of Queen of the Damned, based on the work of author Anne Rice, which was released after her death.

For how much of a music iconic she would become, her greatest admirers can only wish they could know the impression she could have made as an actress in the long run. In memory of Aaliyah, 19 years after her untimely death, the following are seven things we do know about her, some of which may surprise you.

11-Year-old Aaliyah on Star Search

Aaliyah Lost On Star Search After One Performance

The world was first introduced to Aaliyah’s stunning on-stage presence and remarkable vocal talent at just 10 years old when she appeared on Star Search in 1989 as challenger to junior vocalist returning champion Katrina Abrams. While her performance of “My Funny Valentine” earned praise from host Ed McMahon, who would claim he saw “the fire” of a great artist in her that night in a 2001 Vibe article, she just barely made the cut to move onto another round with a score of 3.25 points. Abrams would go on to have a modest singing career, while Aaliyah became a legend, giving the message of her Grammy-nominated single “Try Again” a more personal meaning.

Jet Li and Aaliyah in Romeo Must Die

Aaliyah Performed Her Own Stunts In Romeo Must Die

Speaking of “Try Again," the 2000 hit was one of several songs performed by Aaliyah for the film Romeo Must Die, which also stars the singer as the daughter of a mob boss whom a former cop (Jet Li) falls in love with while investigating his brother’s murder. In a behind-the-scenes look of the modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with a kung fu twist, martial artist Li praised his romantic lead’s acting ability as well as her fighting skills. In fact, Aaliyah requested not to use a stunt double, adding to CNN that she “wanted the audience to be like, ‘Wow, she actually got up there and is kicking some butt.’”

Jaimee Foxworth as Judy Winslow in the opening credits for Family Matters

Aaliyah Auditioned To Play Judy On Family Matters

Long before she made her feature film debut in Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah’s acting aspirations date all the way back to her childhood, and even earlier than her push for a singing career. When she was 9 years old, she auditioned for the role of Judy, the youngest daughter of Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) and Harriet Winslow (Jo Marie Payton) on the long-running sitcom Family Matters. Of course, the character (played by Jaimee Foxworth) infamously disappeared from the series late into its fourth season without explanation, so perhaps it was for the best that Aaliyah did not land the role.

Gladys Knight on Empire

Aaliyah Performed In Las Vegas With Her Aunt, Gladys Knight

Besides, if Aaliyah had been busy wrestling for the spotlight against Jaleel White as Steve Urkel, she might have missed the chance at one of the most important gigs of her life. Shortly after her tearful loss on Star Search, she was asked by Motown legend Gladys Knight, who was then married to Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson, if she would like to sing with her for a number of shows in Las Vegas. In a report from BBC days after Aaliyah’s death, a mourning Knight said the following:

From an early age, I knew she had enormous talents, an intrinsic gift. When she first performed with me in Las Vegas, she was still quite young, but she already had it - that spark the world would later see and fall in love with.

Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned

Following Her Death, Aaliyah’s Brother Filled In To Complete Her Role On Queen Of The Damned

In one interview with CBS, Aaliyah cited vampires as a childhood obsession before she became the ultimate bloodsucker in her second and, unfortunately, final starring role as Akasha in 2002’s Queen of the Damned. While she finished all her scenes in the loosely connected sequel to Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles shortly before her death, ADR was still required to finish her dialogue. Aaliyah’s brother Rashad Haughton, with whom she was very close, stepped in to record the lines, which sound engineers would replicate to match his sister’s voice and the character’s otherworldly aura.

Zendaya on Euphoria

Zendaya Was Originally Cast As Aaliyah In A TV Biopic

In hopes to match Aaliyah’s aura, Lifetime cast Zendaya, an up-and-coming star of the screen and the radio herself at the time, in the network’s own biopic about her life and career. However, just days later, the actress dropped out of the project, amid reports of other production issues, and the title of Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, which aired on November 15, 2014, would later go to Alexandra Shipp, better known today as Storm in the more recent X-Men movies.

Harold Perrineau and Aaliyah on the set of The Matrix Reloaded

Aaliyah Shot Scenes For The Matrix Reloaded Before Her Death

There was a time when Aaliyah almost achieved blockbuster franchise stardom herself if not for untimely circumstances cutting that opportunity short. While Queen of the Damned would officially become her final film role, she did film a few scenes for The Matrix Reloaded, the first 2003 sequel to the dystopian sci-fi spectacle, as Zee before the role was recast and re-shot with Nona Gaye, following Aaliyah’s death. That was only the first tragedy the cast and crew suffered with 67-year-old Oracle actress Gloria Foster passing away just days later due to diabetes.

Fans and critics alike still recall Aaliyah as the primary highlight of both Romeo Must Die and Queen of the Damned and the praise from her The Matrix Reloaded co-stars suggests we almost saw another winning action movie performance from her. It is rare, with some exceptions, that singers go on to lead an acting career much like the one she seemed to be on a straight path toward and it stings to know that we never got to see more for her on the big screen. Yet, it is also endearing to imagine the “what-ifs” of it all as a reminder of how strong and versatile Aaliyah’s talents were, which is always something worth celebrating.

What is your favorite song, performance, or other memory of Aaliyah? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for more information and updates on the late artist’s legacy, as well as even more in-depths looks into the lives of your favorite celebrities, here on CinemaBlend.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.