James Brown lived a true rags to riches story, having come out of the Great Depression and shining shoes for pennies to eventually getting everything he could ever dream of. Throughout his years in the music industry, he lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and with it, he did some pretty bad things.
While he achieved the highest of highs in artistry, he also sent those close to him – especially women – into the lowest of lows. He was known to terrorize his wives and girlfriends, not to mention fellow musicians. And the drugs. Wow, so many drugs. In the end, Brown’s life ended in the murder mystery category. Even after his death, drama has followed Brown. People are wondering if the Godfather of Soul was actually murdered.
How Did James Brown Die?
Officially, James Brown died of heart failure on Christmas Day in 2006. (After a lifetime of cocaine and PCP use, it only makes sense that his heart finally gave out.) However, after his death, the rumors stared swirling about the circumstances of his passing. Brown, who was 73 at the time, died in a hospital in the presence of only one person: his personal manager, Charles Bobbit.
Unofficially, it’s believed by those who were close to him — even the doctor who treated him the night he died — that the singer didn’t die of natural causes. “He changed too fast,” Marvin Crawford, the doctor who treated him, stated.
“What Went Wrong in That Room?”
That was the very question Dr. Crawford asked after Brown’s death. What made the doctor ask such a question? Well, for one, no autopsy was ever conducted. Second of all, it’s been suggested that an unknown visitor snuck into his hospital room right before he died.
Then, there’s a close friend of Brown’s, Andre White, who says he’s been keeping a vial of the singer’s blood all this time, hoping it’ll ultimately prove that he was drugged and killed. And there are many more unanswered questions regarding his death. His behavior in the days that preceded his death were highly suspect…
Weak, Dazed, and Rushed to the Hospital
On December 23, 2006, Brown, who was described as “weak and dazed,” went to the dentist. He was already sick with prostate cancer and diabetes. It was at the dentist that he grew increasingly ill and was rushed to the hospital. His manager Bobbit noted that Brown had been coughing since November (they were touring Europe that fall), but he never complained about being sick.
At the hospital, Dr. Crawford found cocaine in Brown’s urine and diagnosed him with early congestive heart failure. By 1:45 a.m. on Christmas Day, he had flatlined. According to Bobbit, Brown’s final words were “I’m going away tonight.”
Who Was the Mysterious Night Visitor?
After his death, Dr. Crawford saw Brown’s son-in-law, Darren Lumar, yelling, “They killed him!” And according to White, a nurse told him “a stranger” paid the singer a visit just before his vitals plummeted. She was the one who gave him the blood sample. Allegedly, a residue in his breathing tube suggested that a drug had been administered.
All these circumstances have led people to wonder if Brown was indeed murdered. Many initial questions and doubts were aimed at Bobbit, who was supposed to be looking after Brown and was the last person known to see him alive. Bobbit claims that he left the room that night to get him a dietary supplement.
All Signs Were Pointing to Bobbit
He gave the supplement to Brown only for him to quickly deteriorate after that. “The story was always a little vague,” said another manager of Brown’s named Frank Copsidas. Brown’s friend, Fannie Brown Burford, said matter-of-factly, that she “knew he was lying right off.”
And when you have the family doctor claiming foul play, you know something fishy is going on. “Somebody perhaps could have given him an illicit substance that led to his death,” Dr. Crawford noted. Even more suspicious was that the doctor said, after treating his mild heart attack on December 23, that “Brown improved fast.”
Boom, Boom… Boom
His exact words were: “Boom, boom, boom… by 5 o’clock on the 24th, I mean, he probably could have walked out of the hospital if he had wanted. But we wouldn’t let him go. We wouldn’t tell him to go yet.” And then all of a sudden – boom – the line goes flat.
What came to light after his death was the cocktail of drugs found on the bottom of a shoe which belonged to Brown’s hairdresser, a woman named Candice Hurst. Brown and Hurst had had been involved in an affair up until his death. In that cocktail was marijuana, cocaine, and a prescription drug called Diltiazem, used to treat high blood pressure and chest pain.
Was His Mistress Involved?
When questioned, Hurst suggested she probably stepped on one of the pills in Brown’s bedroom. But Crawford remembers only prescribing Diltiazem to Brown at the hospital. This raised the question: was Hurst at the hospital with Brown? Was she the mysterious night visitor?
There’s another woman who wrote herself into the James Brown murder mystery, and her name is Jacquelyn Hollander. She’s been claiming for over two decades that Brown’s wife, Adrienne Rodriguez (whom he married in 1984), was also murdered. Hollander also claims that Hurst confessed to poisoning Brown. And there are text messages, supposedly, that attest to it.
Is the Truth in the Text Messages?
Text messages reveal that Hurst was worried about getting busted over a “James Brown duffle bag” that was filled with drugs. It was Brown’s attorney, Buddy Dallas, who allegedly told her to throw the bag into a lake. In this case, an autopsy would surely make things clear, right?
For some reason, though, Brown’s daughter, Yamma, refused to allow one. Why? She didn’t reveal her reasons. Was she hiding something? Brown had some business with gangsters, which might be the “they” Brown’s son-in-law (Yamma’s husband) was referring to when he said, “they killed him.” It would have been nice to ask Darren Lumar about what he meant, but he was murdered, too…
His Son-In-Law Isn’t Around to Explain
In 2007, Lumar made some strange comments to the press. He called for an autopsy, but his wife outright refused. “Nobody wants an autopsy done,” he stated, like “a toxicology report to see what’s actually in his system.” In November 2008, a month after Lumar and Yamma divorced, he was shot dead in a suspected contract killing.
It’s easy to think there’s a link between the two deaths, but the truth is Lumar had plenty of enemies in his life – one of them was Yamma, who said Lumar abused her for years, leading her to eventually stab him in the arm (but she claimed self-defense). Lumar’s murder remains unsolved and it’s because many people wanted him dead.
The Bizarre Journey of His Corpse
Strangely, Brown’s corpse went on a long journey to different locations – 14 in total. No, he was not resting in peace. Not only that – he also wasn’t laid in one piece, either. After his death, a massive battle over his fortune began between his children, ex-wives, and his widow, Tomi Rae Hynie.
Hynie is the mother of his youngest child, James II, but Brown never got around to changing his will to include either her or their son before he died. The Brown family demanded a paternity suit to prove that Brown was even the father. So, what did this mean? That the singer’s legs were amputated posthumously….
Finally Resting in Peace… With No Legs
Brown’s legs were amputated in order to extract bone marrow for a proper DNA reading. James II, for the record, is the biological son of James Brown. But the dispute over the will raged on for 15 years. The details are unknown, but Hynie was denied rights to his multimillion-dollar estate because they were never legally married.
To add another layer to the bizarreness of Brown’s posthumous (after)life is the fact that, at one point, his corpse went missing. In 2010, Brown’s daughter LaRhonda Pettit claimed her father’s body had “disappeared.” He was finally buried in Beech Island, South Carolina, in the yard of one of his daughters.
A Puff of Smoke
Sometimes, and in Brown’s case, curious and noteworthy things come to light only after someone dies. Months before his death, Brown spoke with journalist Robert Chalmers for hours. Chalmers knew it was going to be a memorable interview, and it was from the get-go.
Even before it began, Chalmers had to change his pants (the singer ordered that no blue jeans be allowed). Brown, who was most likely high at the time, took the conversation all over the place with Yiddish slang that made no sense. Eventually, he spoke of death, describing it as your soul exiting through your butt “as a puff of smoke.”
A Predictor of Impending Death
Brown also bragged that he could look at a person’s face and know if they were about to die. Seven years later, Chalmers revisited that odd but entertaining discussion and noted a question that he didn’t include in the originally published interview.
He had asked Brown if he could see death in his future when he looked in a mirror. Brown’s response: “I ain’t gonna tell you that.” But considering how much he brought up the topic of “death and legacy” in their meeting, Chalmers said it’s probable that Brown realized his time was almost up.
The Time He Brought Guns to an Insurance Meeting
Brown was not one to control his impulses. In addition to the continuous drug use, he had a tendency to threaten people with firearms. One time, in 1988, when he was on probation, he randomly went to an insurance seminar in Georgia. Of course, he was high on PCP, but what made it dangerous was that he brought a shotgun and a pistol with him.
He ordered everyone out of the room before finally leaving the scene in his pickup truck with the police after him. They chased him through South Carolina and back into Georgia, shooting out his tires to stop him. He fled for his life and the police opened fire. He was sentenced to six years and six months in prison.
He Had Women Flown In to “Be” With Him
Brown’s chauffeur, William Murrell, was given the task of taking these women from the airport to his boss’s home. In 2014, Murrell told The Guardian that there were times when he picked up several women in one day. Even more revealing was when Murrell said Brown wasn’t the best “performer” in the bedroom.
He heard Brown’s girlfriends say things like “wouldn’t get hard” and “the size of a pencil” on different occasions. Still, Brown managed to pass his genes on to six children (that he knew of). After his death, about a dozen people claimed they were his offspring, and paternity tests were done.
His Three Official Marriages
Considering that Hynie was not Brown’s bona fide wife (although they were unofficially married from 2001), it means the Godfather of Soul was officially married three times. His first marriage was to Velma Warren from 1953 to 1969, then to Diedre Jenkins from 1970 to 1981, and to Adrienne Rodriguez between 1984 and 1996.
And Rodriguez has been the subject of her own murder mystery as well. Brown’s third wife was one of the first people to defend him when he found himself in the hot seat multiple times. But her loyalty was only rewarded with betrayal…
Was His Third Wife Killed?
Sadly, Brown beat Rodriguez continuously. In 1988, police were called to their home for the second time in four days. This time, he bludgeoned her with a pipe and even fired a rifle at her. Rodriguez had the bruises, wounds, and eyewitnesses to prove it, too.
And yet, Brown didn’t go to prison. Jacquelyn Hollander, who later accused Brown of rape (we’ll get to that soon), told CNN that Rodriguez was threatened with her life. But there were others who could be blamed for her death. She died unexpectedly on January 6, 1996, while undergoing cosmetic surgery.
The One Who Wanted to Get Away
Brown had a network of criminals and crooked cops who were keen on keeping their paychecks coming, and Rodriguez knew all the dirt. Before she suddenly died on the operating table, she was planning on divorcing Brown and accusing him of domestic abuse.
Her sudden death was supposedly the result of an accidental overdose, but eyebrows were raised. There were notes by a reliable police informant that a doctor confessed to killing Rodriguez to keep her quiet. These notes apparently went unnoticed for two decades, during which this police informant died.
PCP and Creamed Corn
Rodriguez was a hair stylist when she met Brown. They tied the knot rather quickly, too. Living in the fast lane was something they both did; PCP was a major part of their relationship. They enabled each other’s addictions. One of Brown’s kitchen staff claimed that Rodriguez once put PCP into his creamed corn and ice cream.
Brown himself also alleged that Rodriguez stabbed one of his (many) mistresses in the butt. Those who don’t believe she was murdered believe the official ruling that she died from the liposuction procedure mishap coupled with improper use of prescription medication.
The Brunt of Brown’s Rage
By no means was Rodriguez the only woman Brown put in harm’s way. Vicki Anderson, whose husband performed with Brown, told Rolling Stone that back in the 1970s Brown abused his then-wife, Deidre, calling it “something terrible.”
“The minute he buys you the first thing — if you’re his woman — next will come those beatings,” Anderson said. Hynie also faced the brunt of Brown’s rage. In 2004, she called 911 after he shoved her to the floor, waved a chair above her, and threatened to kill her. He later stated, “I would never hurt my wife. I love her very much.”
Then, There’s the Rape Allegation
In 2007, the state of Illinois changed the law to allow rape survivors to sue their attackers, and the case that inspired the change was Jacqueline Hollander vs. James Brown. She sued Brown for rape in 2005 after having kept quiet for years, because she feared he would kill her.
She first met him when she was only 13 and battling intestinal cancer. Over the years they became friends and recorded music together. Speaking with CNN, she described the day Brown insisted she join him for a car ride. He had a shotgun with him and was probably high, too.
A Nightmare in the Woods
He grew increasingly disturbed, she recalled. He drove her into the woods and took advantage of her at gunpoint. According to her account, he warned her that if she told anyone, he would kill her and her whole family. Terrified, she continued collaborating with him.
She then tried to tell Stanley Booth, an author she met through Brown’s lawyer, about the incident. Booth wrote about it in his book on Brown, yet he made it look like the encounter was consensual. Hollander then sued Booth for defamation, but to no avail. In 2019, Booth said Brown “probably did” rape Hollander, while adding, “I don’t care.”
The Infamous 1988 Interview
Back in 1988, Brown agreed to appear on CNN – for some reason – to discuss a criminal investigation against him that was still going on. It concerned the time he beat his wife with a lead pipe before firing a gun at the car she was in.
In the interview, he was asked about the incident to which he simply responded with a rendition of the chorus to Living in America. The reporter was silent after the bizarre and inappropriate response. After an awkward silence, Brown said, “there’s nothing wrong.”
Go Ahead, Try to Argue That He Was Sober
After decades and millions of views of this perplexing interview, most people have come to the conclusion that Brown was on PCP at the time. It took place during a period when he was addicted to the drug. His wide eyes can even be seen behind those yellow sunglasses and the complete dissociation from reality was noted by everyone.
All the while, he was being investigated for a crime, so incriminating could be one word to describe this interview. Not only is it obvious that he was not of sound mind, but he was also completely unapologetic for his actions.
It’s a Man’s World
That interview also exhibited just how much he truly believed that it’s a man’s world. When he was questioned about the domestic abuse, he shouted out: “This is a man’s world!” Oh, and he stated how women love him because he “makes love good.”
Amazingly, the female host kept her sh*t together and let Brown dig his own hole further and further. Despite the hilarity and ridiculousness of the interview, Brown was being charged with serious offenses. And a mere few months after the interview, he was arrested again for wielding a shotgun in public (the insurance meeting incident).
The Greedy Accountant
Brown’s estate is said to be worth up to $100 million, and the man who managed that amount of money was David Cannon. Obviously, Cannon was paid generously. However, he was later prosecuted over the claim that his checks looked too good to be legal.
Cannon had been entitled to a five percent cut of Brown’s earnings, but he was helping himself to 15 percent. He was ultimately accused of stealing over $8 million. He chalked it off as one big misunderstanding – that Brown had given him permission to give himself a raise.
On the Suspect List
There were also rumors that some of that money went to Brown’s lawyer, Buddy Dallas, who ended up resigning because of the accusations. Let it be known, too, that both Cannon and Dallas were named as possible persons of interest with a motive for killing Brown.
Journalist Thomas Lake pointed out that the singer wanted to fire both men shortly before his death. In 2011, Cannon entered an Alford plea, where he denied guilt while admitting that he looked guilty as sin. He was then sentenced to ten years in prison.
A Longtime Feud With Joe Tex
Brown earned some enemies throughout his life, one of them being R&B singer Joe Tex. Both were signed to King Records, and they had to compete for stage time and record sales. Over time, the competition turned to animosity, going from professional to personal.
They were making covers of the same songs, like Baby You’re Right, and it was said that Brown “stole” Tex’s ex-wife, Bea Ford. Tex then released a diss track called You Keep Her, where he actually calls out Brown by name.
The Boiling Point at Club 15
The feud reached a boiling point in 1963 at a venue called Club 15 in Georgia. Tex was mocking Brown about his performance and his signature cape, by pretending to get tangled in the garment. The Godfather of Soul reacted by pulling out two shotguns.
He then proceeded to open fire on his rival, shooting seven other people in the process. Luckily, no one was killed. Brown ran off while members of his security team stayed behind to compensate the wounded, handing them hundred-dollar bills for their silence. Brown was never charged for his actions.
He Hated His Wife’s Mink Coat
Brown also feuded with his wives and girlfriends – some were ridiculous and some downright evil. A woman named Tammi Terrell claimed Brown hit her with a hammer and, based on his record, she was likely telling the truth.
When Brown was married to Rodriguez, the sheriff in Aiken, Georgia, frequently visited the Brown household for domestic abuse calls. The sheriff said he saw many of the wife’s injuries with his own eyes. One time, Brown filled her mink coat with bullet holes, followed by shooting up her entire closet.
He Was Really Strict About the Dress Code
Brown was meticulous about stage presentation. His flamboyant suits and capes – whether they were fashionable or not – were always pressed and styled. He also expected his musicians and backup singers to maintain the same level perfection.
According to his saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, “He kept people intimidated. Stupid stuff. We had dress-code fines, shoes had to have a certain shine. There were rules about carrying our uniforms.” If you came to the stage with a wrinkle in your outfit, you were slapped with a James Brown fine.
Buddy-Buddy With Elvis
Brown and Elvis Presley were competitors as well as friends. Both strived to be number one in soul music, but it didn’t stop them from becoming friends. According to public accounts, the two respected each other.
Brown once said that he considered Presley to be the only man worth his competition. After Presley’s death, Brown stated, “I wasn’t just a fan, I was his brother. He said I was good, and I said he was good. We never argued about that.” He also arranged for a private viewing of Elvis’s body at the funeral and reportedly wept over the coffin.
Church and Moonshine
Brown was six when he was sent to live with his Aunt Honey. His birth mother had abandoned him when he was four, and Honey came to be a mother figure to him. But that wasn’t even the beginning of his unfortunate beginnings.
He was born not breathing, and one of his aunts reportedly breathed life back into him. Honey loved her nephew, but she was a businesswoman and had to make ends meet. She ran a brothel and sold moonshine. Honey took her young to church, though, so Brown got some formal musical training from his early childhood.
15 Years Old and Behind Bars
Brown’s crimes started when he was young (blame it on his upbringing if you will), and with little supervision as a teenager, there was nothing stopping the kid. He would steal when he couldn’t find jobs.
At 15, he was caught for stealing from parked cars and received an 8- to 16-year sentence for it. It was while he was behind bars that he honed his performance skills. He would sing and everyone loved to listen. He gained the nickname Music Box. The warden and parole board were impressed by his good attitude, so he was released after only three years.
Back to the Slammer but for a Performance
On March 16, 1972, Brown revisited the prison system, but this time it was to perform his music. At Rikers Island, he put on a show for hundreds of 16-to-20-year-old inmates, most of whom were being held while awaiting trial.
“The kids at Rikers went absolutely wild,” said John Brickman, the executive director of the New York City Board of Correction. “They were screaming, they were yelling.” Apparently, Brown had a soft spot for those in the prison system. “He could relate to the unfairness in the justice system and the conditions in our prisons.”
The Truth About It’s a Man’s World
In the early ’60s, Brown liked to use a limo to escape the tour bus life. On one 20-hour journey from Harlem to the South, one of James’s then- girlfriends, Betty Jean Newsome, was sitting in the backseat with Brown.
That trip happened to be the birthplace of the hit single It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, but according to Newsome, Brown stole it from her. At one point in the ride, she started humming a tune – one that Brown listened to attentively and even joined in on. “Dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah, man’s world,” Newsome, a young dancer, whispered to him.
She Was “James’ Lady”
In the limo was a man named Bobby Byrde, sitting shotgun, who vouched for what Newsome later recounted in court, when she sued Brown for the rights to the song. But he couldn’t listen in too much, knowing he had to give his boss his distance, especially when it came to women.
Newsome “was James’s lady” at the time, Byrd said in the legal documents, which was during the era when he played hundreds of shows at the Apollo Theater. “You have no business speaking to James’s lady. You have no business saying anything to James’s lady.”
She Didn’t Want to Have His Babies
Their romance wasn’t long-lived, and Newsome wasn’t scared of him either, like many of his other ladies came to be. “I was a bouncer in an after-hours joint, frisking men and taking their guns,” she explained. “So, you know, I wasn’t afraid of that little man. No, no, no, uh-huh.”
She claims that Brown asked her to have a baby with him, but she wasn’t interested. She said she told him, “I ain’t gonna be having one of your little monkey babies.” Those around who heard her remark were in awe of the fact that Brown didn’t kill her right then and there.
Newsome vs. Brown
Although they didn’t procreate, they did create something together. It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World brought them to court like two quarreling parents in a custody battle – one that lasted decades. The first recording was as “It’s a Man’s World” in 1964 in Chicago.
But the second recording in 1966, which was retitled with the two extra “Man’s,” became the international sensation and one of Brown’s signature showstoppers and personal favorites. Come 2002, however, Brown had to face the music when Newsome brought him to court. He had to make a sworn deposition regarding the creation of the song.
Cagey in Court
Under oath, Brown testified that Newsome had nothing to do with the song. He did, however, sign over 25 percent of the publishing rights to her because his manager said to do so. The court saw Brown acting cagey, avoiding questions or answering them vaguely.
At one point, he admitted that Newsome was his guest at the WAAW, a radio station he owned in Augusta, in 1999, where they discussed the song together on the air. “You can’t undo history,” Brown said. “So, you know, they gave it to her against my thing. I didn’t ever agree with it.”
The Genesis of a Man’s World
Brown recalled that long-ago limo ride, but when he was asked, “Did you ever take Betty Newsome’s musical words?”, he replied: “She never gave any.” He insisted instead that he “wrote the song because God give me that.”
Speaking of God, Newsome says she conceived the song after reading the book of Genesis. “I was just reading the Bible and thinking about how wonderful and powerful man is,” but that it was “worthless without a woman — and you gotta have them kids — or a girl. That’s where the girl part comes in.”
Humming Her Gospel
Newsome said she wrote the lyrics down and later hummed the melody to a preacher, calling it a gospel song. She was hoping someone would record her song, so when she hummed it later to Brown during that trip in the limo, it wasn’t just on a whim.
It wasn’t her first song, either; she wrote other mostly spiritual songs, but this one was special. Her plan worked, seeing as the song became a hit. She just didn’t expect for it to be stolen by the Godfather of Soul. By the time it was heard on the radio, the two were no longer an item.
Her Gangster Husband Dealt With It
Her name was nowhere to be found in relation to the song, either. Yet, despite her so-called fearlessness when it came to Brown, she didn’t fighting back. It was her future husband and father of her future child, Clarence “Mookie” Jackson, who handled the dispute.
Word on the street has it that someone (maybe Jackson) let a box of mice loose at one of Brown’s concerts. Jackson was a gangster and “didn’t care what happened.” In the end, it was Jackson’s publishing company, Clamike Records, that sued Brown and came to a 1967 agreement where Newsome was listed as co-author of It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.
No One Knows
She was also entitled to one-third of the writing royalties. And yet, hardly anyone knows that Newsome wrote one of the best songs in history. Despite it all, she bears no grudge against Brown. She even visited him at his home in 1999, when she helped him pick out an engagement ring for Tomi Rae Hynie.
A year after his death, Newsome reminisced, “He was a good man,” she says. “I find no fault in the man. It wasn’t him that did me wrong about my song—it was the record companies and the publishers. I miss him. There was only one. There was none before him, and there will never be another JB.”