*Late-soul singer Teddy Pendergrass was at the height of his career when he slammed his Rolls Royce into a tree on March 18, 1982, in the East Falls section of Philadelphia on Lincoln Drive.
He reportedly lost control of the vehicle, as no other car was involved in the crash. Pendergrass and his passenger, Tenika Watson, a transgender nightclub performer, were trapped in the wreckage for 45 minutes. Watson walked away from the accident with minor injuries, while Pendergrass suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
Initially, there was much speculation about the details surrounding the accident, but Pendergrass remained focused on his recovery and Watson has kept quiet in the 30 years since the accident.
But in an 2014 interview with “Oprah: Where Are They Now?,” she finally opened up about her side of the story.
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Like many Pendergrass fans, Watson was a fan of the charismatic artist. “Teddy was a big star,” she remembers. “His music was always playing. You couldn’t get any bigger than he was, and he was a very handsome man, I must say.”
Back then, Watson was a sex worker who lived near the studio where Pendergrass recorded his music. One day she saw him walking down the street.
“He called me over to his car — it was a Rolls Royce.” Watson says she ran away from Teddy because,“I thought he was a pimp because I wasn’t used to people really having Rolls Royce.”
The next time they locked eyes was at a popular club in Philadelphia, where Watson was working as an entertainer. But this time, instead of running away, she chatted him up until it was time for her to go home and Pendergrass offered her a ride.
That’s when both of their lives would change.
“First, the car started speeding up really fast, and I was wondering, ‘Was he driving fast?’ — but he wasn’t. It was out of control,” Watson says. “Then I noticed he was struggling with the wheel, and all of a sudden I heard this great big bang,” Watson said.
Adding, “The next thing I know, the press was there,” she says.
Soon after the accident, Watson tried to reach out to Pendergrass, but was unsuccessful.
“I went to the hospital where he was and there was a woman there. She said, ‘Well, you’re not going to see him before his son does,’ and she caused this big scene,” Watson says. “I just left.”
Two days after the accident, news broke of Watson’s sordid past and the sexual reassignment surgery she had five years prior.
“I don’t think Teddy knew about my transition at all,” she says today and her multiple arrests for prostitution. “The hardest thing for me to read was for them to insinuate that there was a sex act going [on]. There wasn’t.”
The rumors and negative media attention caused Watson to be dropped by her modeling agency before her career could even get off the ground. She was forced back into sex work to support herself and she also became addicted to drugs.
“The doctor started giving me Valium, and the Valium made me feel like I could deal with things better. I got hooked on them,” Watson admits. “I became strung out on drugs later.”
In 2002, Watson finally got her chance to meet with Pendergrass.
“Someone called me that knew Teddy’s mother and they said, ‘Tenika, you have to get here quick because Teddy’s mother wants to see you,’” she says. “So I got myself together and went to where his mother was. She said, ‘If you want to talk to Teddy (he’s) out in the car.’”
When Watson and Pendergrass finally came face to face for the first time in three decades, she says they “didn’t have much to say to each other it… But it was the closure that I needed,” she says.
“I had been through a lot and I’m sure he had too. I was clean and sober, and I had me back. I had my strength back.”
Teddy Pendergrass died in 2010 of colon cancer.