Who Is Aaliyah's Stylist? Derek Lee Is Portrayed in 'Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B' & Still Reminisces About his Friend
The new Lifetime biopic premiering on Saturday, Nov. 15, Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B , will show the rise of the pop star up until she leaves for the music video shoot of "Rock the Boat." A tragic plane crash killed Aaliyah and the eight other passengers on their way home from that shoot, but Aaliyah's stylist Derek Lee never got on that plane back in August 2001. Part of the music video shoot took place in the Bahamas and when she was returning to come home, the plane crashed only 200 feet from the end of the runway. Lee, who was also Aaliyah's friend, was supposed to be on the plane, but decided to stay an extra day in the Bahamas, and survived.
In BBC Radio 1Xtra's Aaliyah: Gone Too Soon, Lee spoke about the video shoot and his decision to stay behind. He said,
"We were all supposed to leave and go back home, but I didn't want to leave because the very next day was a Sunday, so I would've got into LA on Sunday. And I can't return clothes on a Sunday. So I figured since we've been working the whole time, I might as well stay there and get some beach time in on Sunday and then return home on Monday."
You can hear more about Aaliyah's final days from Lee starting at 46 minutes in the video below.
I remember I was in a hotel room in Washington D.C. when I heard that Aaliyah died and it was the first time a young celebrity that I loved passed away. (It had been a requirement that I saw Romeo Must Die in theaters.) Even though 13 years have passed, I can only imagine what Lee has gone through. And of course, the Lifetime movie is not without controversy, which I'm sure doesn't make things easier for all the people who actually knew and cared for Aaliyah.
Lifetime has never been afraid to be a bit shameless, but they've really gone for it this past year with biopics of celebrities who have died. It started with Brittany Murphy, now it's Aaliyah, and next will be Whitney Houston. Even though fans of the singer are skeptical (upon watching, it seemed to just be a very watered-down version of something resembling Aaliyah's life), Lee is featured in the movie, as he tweeted about back in August.
He will be portrayed by Dewshane Williams (best known for Syfy's Defiance). In the film, Aaliyah wants to change her image for the release of her second album, One in a Million, and she says, "I want to find a stylist that is creative enough to come up with a look that captures a moment, you know — that captures me." And that's when Lee enters the scene. Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B credits him with giving her the sexy, tight-fitting clothes she wore after her initial success.
Besides being the stylist for Aaliyah, Lee's bio on his Instagram states: "Wardrobe Stylist/Costume Designer - styled Aaliyah, Lil Kim, Macy Gray, Bobby Brown, & so on & so on... I post what inspires me!" According to his Twitter, along with Lil' Kim, Bobby Brown, and working on a Doritos commercial, he recently has worked with Mel B and Tyga.
But Aaliyah is the star he is most associated with for obvious reasons. And for fans of the talented singer, he even posts old photos and memories of her.
In the BBC Radio story, Lee said, "I just miss everything about her. She was like having a little sister." Let's hope he at least feels the film does her justice.