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Aaliyah: A 'beautiful person's' life cut short

(CNN) -- As a four-person team from the United States headed to the Bahamas Monday to investigate the wreckage of a Saturday plane crash that killed Aaliyah, fans and colleagues are mourning the loss of the singer-actress, whose star was on a steady rise.

Aaliyah, 22, was hitting a career peak that spanned from gold records to the silver screen, from Quincy Jones to Keanu Reeves. She had just released her third album, "Aaliyah," last month. It debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Top 200 charts.

And she was also stretching her wings in Hollywood; she was to be featured in the highly anticipated sequels to "The Matrix," following an acclaimed role in last year's "Romeo Must Die."

On Monday, that incredible potential was noted in an avalanche of mourning and praise for Aaliyah, led by her family.

The family's statement to the media said it was "devastated at the loss of their loving daughter and sister. Their hearts go out to those families who lost their loved ones in this tragic accident."

Watch an excerpt from the Aaliyah video 'Try Again' (August 27)

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Singer-actress Aaliyah's death was felt in the music and movie industries. CNN's Brian Palmer reports (August 26)

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    "Aaliyah was my best friend," said Geoye Pugh, a friend of the singer's. "She was a beautiful person on the inside and out, and I'm just shocked."

    Jones, 68, the Grammy-winning producer, arranger and composer, said he was equally disturbed by Aaliyah's death.

    "She was like one of my daughters. She was one of the sweetest girls in the world," Jones told The Associated Press. "She vacationed with me and my family together in Fiji. I loved her and respected her, and I am absolutely devastated."

    "She appeared to be headed for superstardom," said Johnny Walker, a senior vice president with Island/Def Jam Records, a rival to Aaliyah's label, Virgin Records. "Aaliyah clearly was an artist that had gifts .... She had the gift to produce, she had the gift to meet the public's undying demand for the craft that she had."

    Tom Joyner, a syndicated radio-show host who followed Aaliyah's career, agreed.

    "It's just unbelievable that a talent so young and so promising is gone," Joyner said.

    Aaliyah was born Aaliyah Haughton in Brooklyn, New York, on January 16, 1979, and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Her mother was a singer, and her uncle was an entertainment lawyer who was once married to Gladys Knight.

    Aaliyah's first taste of show business came at an early age and left an indelible mark on her. She had a bit role in a production of the musical "Annie."

    "I was an orphan. I had one little line," she once recalled. "But what I loved about it was just putting the production together, being in the chorus, learning the routines, singing and doing a little bit of acting.

    "That's when I said, I've got to do this forever," she said.

    Her determination paid off. Using her connection to former Motown star Knight, Aaliyah won an invitation to perform in Las Vegas at age 11.

    By 15, in 1994, she had released her debut album, "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number," which won her two Grammy nominations. The title track raised eyebrows with its suggestive lyrics, and so did Aaliyah's sexy attitude and sultry voice.

    She told the AP she didn't understand the fuss.

    "I didn't feel I was too mature. I felt for my age, I was just right," she said. "Yeah, it was a bit sexy, but that was just me, and I'm not going to deny being a little bit sexy. I think it's a wonderful thing."

    Adding fuel to the controversy was Aaliyah's relationship with R. Kelly. The R&B superstar, whose hits included "I Believe I Can Fly," produced the record.

    But Kelly and Aaliyah's relationship allegedly turned romantic. According to the AP, papers existed that showed the couple had gotten married despite Aaliyah's young age and a lack of parental consent.

    Kelly and Aaliyah ended up severing artistic ties. But it didn't derail Aaliyah's career.

    Her next release, 1996's "One in a Million," did even better, going multiplatinum as she began a partnership with producer/rappers Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott and Timbaland. Among the hits off that album were the title track and "If Your Girl Only Knew."

    Those who followed R&B music knew it was only a matter of time before Aaliyah reached mainstream success.

    "There's a lot of popular, interchangeable, young pop and R&B singers, and Aaliyah had another element -- another element of mystery and of sophistication," said Alan Light of Spin magazine.

    That extra element might have been her on-screen presence, which she parlayed into a burgeoning career in feature films.

    In the action film "Romeo Must Die," Aaliyah played Juliet to Jet Li's modern-day, martial-arts Romeo. She also recorded two songs for the film's soundtrack: "Try Again" and "Are You Feelin' Me?"

    "She didn't want to be portrayed as a sex symbol but as a serious actor, and I think that she achieved that at some point," said Peter Noel, a writer for the Village Voice.

    Her "Romeo Must Die" performance landed the singer a coveted role in the two sequels to Keanu Reeves' 1999 techno-action flick, "The Matrix." Aaliyah apparently already shot some scenes for the sequels in the spring but was due to film the bulk of her role next year.

    Like her career, her life was cut short, and many in the entertainment industry struggled to grasp Aaliyah's death.

    "I don't know what to make of this right now," Monica, the Atlanta-based R&B singer, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Some people might think we were rivals since we started around the same time, but we were close. I've known her since I was 12, when she came up and told me my accent was funny. I am really feeling this."

    Rapper Ludacris was performing a concert in Los Angeles, California, on Saturday night when he received the news and relayed it to those attending his show.

    "Forty-thousand people went silent," he told the Journal-Constitution. "It was crazy."

    Ludacris said the death forces a harsh message into the charmed life of entertainers such as Aaliyah.

    "Value our lives because we never know what day or what time it'll be over," Ludacris told the Journal-Constitution. "Rich, famous, whatever, it just makes you appreciate just seeing today."

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