“Surviving R. Kelly,” a six-part series that takes a sweeping look at the years of allegations against the singer, turned into one of the highest-rated programs for Lifetime in more than two years: 1.9 million people tuned in for the Jan. 3 premiere. The episodes, which come at a time of public reckoning with sexual misconduct, sparked renewed interest in allegations against Kelly, dominating social media for days and prompting calls to Cook County prosecutors.
Foxx, who referred to the series as “deeply disturbing,” said her office has been contacted by relatives of two individuals, both over the age of 18, who said their loved ones are missing and in contact with Kelly.
Gerald Griggs, an attorney representing the Savage family, who claim their daughter Joycelyn is being held against her will, told The Post that the Fulton County District Attorney’s office reached out to him after the docuseries aired. A spokesman for the prosecutor in Georgia said the office is not commenting on the matter at this time.
The plea from the Cook County prosecutor partially demonstrates the lack of criminal charges against Kelly. “This isn’t one of those situations where it’s just forensics. We need actual witnesses and victims to have the courage to tell their stories,” Foxx said.
Kelly, whose relationships with women have been publicly scrutinized ever since it was revealed that at 27, he illegally married his 15-year-old protege Aaliyah, has long denied wrongdoing. Steve Greenberg, an attorney representing the singer, told the Associated Press on Tuesday the Lifetime series is “another round of stories” used to “fill reality TV time.” He also told the wire service it is inappropriate for a prosecutor to characterize allegations before an investigation or charges.
The singer, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, first shot to fame in the 1990s and is one of R&B’s most successful artists. His high-profile 2008 child pornography trial was a media sensation and quickly became pop culture fodder.
In 2002, a sex tape was mailed to Jim DeRogatis, a Chicago Sun-Times music critic who had written about accusations that Kelly had sex with underage girls; he turned the tape over to authorities, who launched an investigation and filed charges. It took six years for the child pornography case to make it to court, where more than a dozen witnesses identified the person in the video as an underage girl — but the alleged victim and her parents did not testify. Kelly was acquitted on all 14 counts.
“I think we all agreed it was certainly [Kelly] in the video,” jury foreman Jamon Mytty told The Washington Post’s Geoff Edgers, who last year investigated how the recording industry turned a blind eye to Kelly’s behavior for decades. “But without any kind of testimony from her or her parents, you had enough reasonable doubt to say, ‘We don’t know for sure' ” it was her.
Kelly, who has settled several sexual and physical abuse lawsuits as well, faced renewed scrutiny in 2013 following a headlining performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival and a resulting Village Voice Q&A with DeRogatis in which he detailed his reporting over the years. “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women,” the writer told the outlet.
For many who were only aware of the accusations that came out during the 2008 trial, the reporting was revelatory. Four years later, amid the #MeToo movement and after another popular entertainer, Bill Cosby, was arrested on years-old sexual assault claims, DeRogatis published a BuzzFeed report in which former girlfriends and others painted a picture of a celebrity controlling the lives of live-in sexual partners. The parents of one girlfriend, who has publicly said she is doing well, told police her daughter is part of a “cult” and brainwashed.
The explosive report dominated cable news and sparked the #MuteRKelly campaign to remove Kelly’s music from radio and boycott his performances.
Johns Creek police conducted well-being checks in 2016 at two Atlanta-area homes owned by Kelly and, following the BuzzFeed report, announced “no further investigation is being conducted at this time.” And Foxx, the Cook County prosecutor, confirmed Tuesday that Chicago police had conducted a wellness check at one of Kelly’s homes.
Also last year, a woman filed a complaint with Dallas police that Kelly had given her a sexually transmitted disease. (A representative for Kelly said he “categorically denies all claims and allegations” related to the complaint.)
Kelly’s management told The Post in a statement last year the singer “has close friendships with a number of women who are strong, independent, happy, well cared for and free to come and go as they please. All of the women targeted by the current media onslaught are legal adults of sound mind and body, with their own free will.”
The closest Kelly has come to publicly speaking on the accusations against him came in the form of a 19-minute song he released last year.
In it, he sings “they tryna lock me up like Bill” — probably a reference to Cosby.