What The Last 12 Months Of Aaliyah's Life Were Like

Aaliyah Dana Haughton, better known simply as Aaliyah, will forever be remembered as "The Princess of R&B." The singer was poised to watch her star grow even further, as Spin revealed in November 2001, "she already had one gold and two platinum albums to her credit," with her silver screen career breaking out, as well. "I feel very established as a musician," she told the outlet months earlier, adding, "And now that I've started acting, I want to grow in that world."

Tragically enough, Aaliyah's rise to the top of the entertainment industry was cut short, as the starlet was killed on August 25th, 2001, when the 22-year-old's plane crashed shortly after takeoff in the Bahamas. Per Rolling Stone, the "Rock the Boat" singer "was among six passengers dead at the scene; three others passed away hours later."

"The thing with Aaliyah is that everybody liked her," Damon Dash, Aaliyah's boyfriend at the time of her passing, told Fader years later. "There was nobody pulling her strings, it was all her [...] She really wanted it. She died working, you know? She didn't die playing around." Sure enough, Aaliyah truly was an A-list machine, spending the final year of her life pushing all of her talents to the masses and even giving those closest to her a chance to thrive professionally, as well. Let's take a look at the last 12 months of Aaliyah's life.

Aaliyah's career was at an all-time high

Aaliyah's popularity was growing at the turn of the century, with the Brooklyn-born starlet taking the momentum of her reign as R&B queen and translating it onto the silver screen. The year leading up to her passing in August of 2001, Aaliyah made her acting debut in Romeo Must Die alongside Jet Li.

Praised for her breakout role as "engaging" by Rolling Stone and "acclaimed" by CNN, Aaliyah's influence in the flick didn't just end there. In fact, according to Billboard, her single from the movie, "Try Again," won two MTV awards and reached the top of Billboard Top 100 — "the first single in chart history to reach #1 without a commercial single release." If that's not all, the starlet also received a Grammy nomination for the track for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

So, did Aaliyah enjoy her acting debut? As she told CBS, it's something that she wanted for a "very long time," adding, "Since I was little, I started in singing, I did acting, I danced, I did plays, in high school I took a bit of drama, but music was first." Finishing off the interview gushing that she has "so many places to go and so many things to enjoy," Aaliyah's untimely passing got in the way of what could have been an incredibly fruitful career in Tinseltown.

She was creating her own Japanese-inspired clothing line

During Aaliyah's short-lived experience as the Princess of R&B, the singer was known for her unique sense of style. To this very day, Aaliyah's sartorial prowess serves as a launchpad for those looking to channel her effortless '90s swagger. "Aaliyah has influenced my style so much," rapper Kari Faux gushed to Vogue in 2018. "Her choice of clothes and how they fit were always dope to me but also how she carried herself inspired me too."

One brand that will forever be associated with Aaliyah? None other than Tommy Hilfiger, whom she modeled for on multiple occasions. In fact, it's during one photoshoot that the starlet met her best friend, Kidada Jones. Speaking to Fader in 2011, Jones recalled the pair were set to embark on their own fashion label. "It was called Dolly Pop. Right when she passed we were getting ready to sign our contracts for that. We were making plans for this brand that was gonna be girly and cute and have Japanese inspiration."

Right before her death, Aaliyah's stylist, Derek Lee, was drawing influence from her Jamaican heritage and finding ways to incorporate it into her music. "She was down for whatever and plus being on an island you had lots of opportunities to go in with this Jamaican stuff," Lee told Vibe of their filming for her final music video, "Rock The Boat." Sure enough, the final product drew heavily on the Jamaican dancehall style.

Aaliyah wrapped up filming Queen of the Damned

After getting a taste of being on the silver screen with her acting debut in Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah didn't wait long until she jumped back into the thespian world. Snagging the titular role of Queen Akasha in Queen of the Damned, the R&B crooner began filming in late 2000, even living in Australia for five months in the process.

"I loved it, it was beautiful," the starlet touted her time Down Under in an interview with 106 & Park, but admitted, "I missed my home, and I missed my friends." As for the role itself, she offered up some praise while speaking to MTV. "It's a really cool film — it's fun, it's scary. I'm the queen mother of all the vampires, the original bad girl. It was a fun part to play."

When Aaliyah suddenly passed away in August of 2001, the production studio for the flick found themselves in a frenzy. The movie's release was delayed multiple times, with producer Jorge Saralegui musing to The Age, "What could we do with [the marketing campaign]? Nothing but go forward and hope for the best." He added, "Is it ghoulish? It can certainly be seen that way. It's certainly tragic and weird and upsetting to some people." Nevertheless, the team pushed forward, and Queen of the Damned was finally released in February of 2002. Unfortunately, it was utterly trashed by critics.

She was slated to star in The Matrix sequels

Although Aaliyah's role as Akasha in Queen of the Damned didn't see any Oscar nods come her way, she was definitely en route towards becoming a cinematic star — thanks to snagging a part in the cult franchise, The Matrix. As Aaliyah revealed to 106 & Park, filming for the sequel began in March 2001, and while she shot some scenes in May, the singer was slated to head to Australia yet again in January of 2002 — undoubtedly familiar stomping grounds after her time Down Under filming Queen of the Damned.

As Variety reported (via ABC News), Aaliyah's character, Zee, was supposed to "gain prominence in the third installment," yet this never came to fruition after the singer's tragic passing in August 2001. Per MTV, the role was filled by Marvin Gaye's daughter, Nona Gaye. "It's just a very strong, very deep loss to everybody involved," revealed The Matrix Reloaded producer Grant Hill, in a tribute video made by the cast and crew. "It's not something that you sort of switch gears [from] so quickly, and I think it took a long time [...] to absorb what had actually happened."

If Aaliyah would have completed the two Matrix sequels, who knows what her next step as a pop culture icon would have been. "She was probably going towards film and TV really hard," the late songstress' stylist, Derek Lee, told Vibe. "It was her next revolutionary step."

Mark Ronson has Aaliyah to thank for his music video debut

Although DJ and record producer Mark Ronson is now a heavyweight in the music biz with a whopping seven Grammy wins, the London-born star quietly made his way to the top by rubbing elbows with the industry's finest. As Pitchfork writes, "In the late 1990s and early 2000s" he cropped up at various A-list bookings, "playing both Martha Stewart's Christmas party and the wedding reception of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, hosted in a 15th-century Italian castle." Another celeb whom he crossed paths with? The Princess of R&B herself, Aaliyah.

"We hung out quite a bit—we used to go to Cheetah, this big club on Monday nights," the musician recalled to Fader, revealing that it's through his "girlfriend's sister's friend" that he came to be good friends with the starlet. "Aaliyah was the absolute superstar [...] she was extremely aware of other people's emotions and it always seemed like she was there to make everybody feel alright on a spiritual level."

Sure enough, Aaliyah helped Ronson out on more than a spiritual level. In addition to appearing alongside her in a Tommy Hilfiger print ad, Ronson also made his music video debut with a cameo in the starlet's "More Than A Woman" video.

She released the single 'We Need A Resolution' in April

Before releasing her third (and final) album, Aaliyah, in July 2001, Aaliyah released her single, "We Need A Resolution" in April that same year. The creative force behind the track was producer Timbaland, who even appeared on the single and in the subsequent music video, as well.

As it turned out, Timbaland and Aaliyah go back years, with the now-acclaimed star actually breaking out into the mainstream after he and longtime friend Missy Elliott "scored a number one in 1996 [producing] Aaliyah's 'If Your Girl Only Knew'" (via The Guardian). As Missy Elliott recalled to Fader in 2011, "She was my little sister and Tim was my brother," adding, "And we became the Supafriends! We felt like we was gonna save the world. We was gonna change music every chance that we got. We felt like we was gonna always be family. Forever."

Timbaland spoke out about the depression he fell into after Aaliyah's death on The Meredith Vieira Show in 2015, explaining, "That time was a trying time," heartbreakingly adding, "It's not just the loss of the physical, but it's the feeling. She was music, and that's a part of me." Timbaland revealed that for a while after Aaliyah's passing, he lost the motivation to create any type of art. Nowadays, he says he can "feel her through [his] music."

Aaliyah was spending time with Jay-Z and Damon Dash

Weeks before her death in 2001, Aaliyah was, of course, spending time with her beau, Damon "Dame" Dash — one of the co-founders of Roc-A-Fella Records. According to Rolling Stone, this meant that the R&B starlet was surely hanging out with Jay-Z, too, originally one-third of the now-celebrated label. As the outlet writes, the group spent the warm months at "the summer house that Jay-Z shared with [Dash]."

Dash revealed to Hip Hop Motivation in 2015 that it's actually Jay-Z that brought the two together — yet perhaps he had feelings for the singer, as well. "I was going at her, but Jay was going at her," Dash explained, adding, "Aaliyah was the type of girl that would give you a shot. She didn't care what people thought [...] She'll date you [...] but you might end up in the friend zone."

Years after Dash's interview, in 2019, it looks like the producer still can't shake off the love rivalry from so many years ago. "He tried very hard," Dash mused to Page Six. "I did not mean to fall in love with Aaliyah, she was just that cool. But you know, we were both going hard [...] everybody was trying to get to Aaliyah — it was not just Jay." It's an interesting timeline to think about, because a year leading up to Aaliyah's death, it's reported that the "99 Problems" rapper was just starting to date his now-wife, Beyoncé, too.

Aaliyah filmed a rare MTV documentary weeks before she passed

Although she was at the top of her career and certainly in the public eye, Aaliyah knew how to keep her personal life away from her professional endeavors. "Aaliyah was pretty resolute about separating public and private," wrote Christopher John Farley in his biography, Aaliyah: More Than A Woman, adding, "Still, her private life wasn't completely off limits to scrutiny."

Sure enough, a mere weeks before her untimely death, Aaliyah filmed a rare, half-hour MTV documentary that gave her fans an inside look into her life. As The Source writes, "It still stands as one of the best looks into the private life of a musician who prided herself on a mysterious appeal." In the special, you see the "Try Again" crooner spend time shopping, traveling to Paris, and conducting business, such as walking the red carpet at award shows. "This business is really 24-7. It's a lot of glamour, it's a lot of work, and you can get lost," she explained.

Hauntingly enough, near the end of the documentary, Aaliyah muses, "I can definitely say that I'm a truly happy young person. There's so much more that I want to do in my career and I'm going to work hard to do and to achieve," finally adding, "Everything is worth it. The hard work, the times when you're tired. The times when you're a bit sad. In the end, it's all worth it."

She released her third album in July 2001

Aaliyah's self-titled third album was released in July 2001 — a month before a plane crash in the Bahamas took her life. According to Billboard, "Aaliyah became the artist's first top-10 album when it entered The Billboard 200 at No. 2," and after her passing, by September, it had shot "to [the] top of [the] charts"(via Rolling Stone).

Although the album received significant praise posthumously for the starlet, perhaps it also had something to do with the fact that the R&B sensation served as an executive producer on the record. As Aaliyah: A Biography notes, the singer brought elements of "rhythm and blues stylings," while also wanting to showcase how much her voice had matured. "I really just feel [that] this album is a reflection of me," Aaliyah explained in her MTV Diary episode. "It's the best work that I've done to date, so I'm hoping people really feel me on this one."

While Aaliyah never got the opportunity to see just how many people her music touched, her legacy still lives on. Fuse elaborated on this concept, noting, Aaliyah "has influenced artists like The Weeknd, Tinashe, Rihanna, and FKA Twigs." Producer Rapture Stewart summarized the icon's impact perfectly, comparing her to fellow modern R&B legend, Beyoncé: "Say how Beyoncé is very innovative in her thinking, now to me that was Aaliyah ... [Beyoncé's] lane opened up so wide because there was a void left from Aaliyah."

Aaliyah began shooting her final music video in the Bahamas

Aaliyah shot her final music video for "Rock the Boat" — the single off of her third self-titled album — in the Bahamas. As VH1's Behind the Music notes, shooting at the tropical destination began on August 24th, 2001, with Aaliyah and her crew arriving the day prior. "We sat out on the beach and read our horoscopes and our love life in magazines. [We] talked about vacationing in Fiji or Tahiti this winter," recalled the starlet's choreographer, Fatima Robinson. As Aaliyah's stylist, Derek Lee, added, "Everything fell into place perfectly."

The crew woke up fresh on the morning of the 25th, with production "ahead of schedule" by 4 in the afternoon. According to Behind the Music, "they decided to wrap a day early," with Aaliyah wanting to head back to the U.S. to reunite with her family and boyfriend.

Considering the tragedy that would soon strike, the finished video was, ironically enough, a beautiful send off for the Princess of R&B. The producer for "Rock the Boat," Kevin Taylor, described the video to NME as "very ethereal and heavenly," adding, "There are lots of shots of [...] clouds, and the video ends with Aaliyah swimming up from the bottom of a pool, almost looking like she's going into the clouds. It's really beautiful."

Aaliyah was worried about boarding the plane to the Bahamas

As bold as she may have seemed, Aaliyah had one fear: flying. As detailed in VH1's Behind the Music, the R&B sensation wasn't comfortable boarding the small plane en route to shoot "Rock the Boat" in the Bahamas. "She was like, 'I don't like that plane,'" Aaliyah's boyfriend, Damon Dash, told The Real in 2016, adding, "It was a complicated situation, but she had to go do that video." As it turned out, the 45-minute trip to the dreamy destination went flawlessly.

On the afternoon of August 25th, 2001, Aaliyah and her crew had hoped to take the same 15-seat plane back to Florida, "but their charter company Sky Limo wasn't expecting to pick them up until the next day." They ended up hiring Blackhawk International Airways, instead. As John Frank, executive director of the Cessna Pilots' Association, told CNN, "Clearly the airplane was above its certificated gross weight when it took off, by several hundred pounds at least." The aircraft barely made it off of the runway, crashing into a marsh shortly after takeoff.

The video's director, Hype Williams, released the video following Aaliyah's death, earning it a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. "Those four days were very beautiful for everyone. We all worked together as a family," Williams recalled. "I know there's a lot of pain involved, but that's all the more reason people would appreciate what we've done as a group" (via MTV).