Legendary Singer James Brown Dies at 73
Tuesday, December 26, 2006; 11:33 AM
ATLANTA -- "Godfather of Soul" James Brown remained the hardest working man in show business to the end, telling friends from his hospital bed that he'd be in Times Square on New Year's Eve, even though he had pneumonia.
His heart gave out a few hours later, on Christmas morning.
All Christmas day, famous fans from Mick Jagger to Snoop Dogg to the Rev. Al Sharpton shared memories of their mentor and idol, while lesser known fans left candles on Brown's Hollywood Walk of Fame star in Los Angeles and streamed to his statue in his boyhood hometown of Augusta, piling mementos and flowers at its base.
"Y'all lost the Godfather of Soul, but I lost my father. I know the whole world loved him just as much as we loved him, so we're not mourning by ourselves," Brown's daughter Venisha Brown told The Augusta Chronicle as she stood near the statue, fighting back tears.
The 73-year-old pompadoured dynamo, whose classic singles include "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)," died of heart failure less than two days after he had been hospitalized with pneumonia and only three days after leading his annual holiday toy giveaway in Augusta.
"I ain't got the same energy," Brown had told the New York Post a week earlier as he discussed his planned concert tour, "but I'm sharper."
"Father Time, knowledge and prayer _ I pray a lot," Brown had said. He described himself as "like Will Rogers: I love everybody. So this is not a hard job for me."
The entertainer with the rough-edged voice and flashy footwork also had diabetes and prostate cancer that was in remission. But he initially seemed fine at the hospital and talked about his New Year's Eve show at B.B. King Blues Club in New York, said his agent, Frank Copsidas.
"Last night, he said, 'I'm going to be there. I'm the hardest working man in show business,'" Copsidas said Monday.
Brown was himself to the end, at one point saying, "I'm going away tonight," said friend Charles Bobbit, who was with Brown when he died.
"I didn't want to believe him," he said.
A short time later, Brown sighed quietly, closed his eyes and died, Bobbit said.
"His thing was 'I never saw a person that I didn't love.' He was a true humanitarian who loved his country," Bobbit said.
One of the major musical influences of the past 50 years, James Brown was to rhythm and dance music what Bob Dylan was to lyrics.
From Jagger to Michael Jackson, David Bowie to Public Enemy, his rapid-footed dancing, hard-charging beats and heartfelt yet often unintelligible vocals changed the musical landscape.
"He was a whirlwind of energy and precision, and he was always very generous and supportive to me in the early days of the Stones," Jagger said. "His passing is a huge loss to music."
Rapper Snoop Dogg called him "my soul inspiration."
Brown was one of the first artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and other founding fathers.
"He made soul music a world music," said Sharpton, who toured with Brown in the 1970s and imitates his hairstyle to this day. "What James Brown was to music in terms of soul and hip-hop, rap, all of that, is what Bach was to classical music. This is a guy who literally changed the music industry. He put everybody on a different beat, a different style of music. He pioneered it."
Sharpton will officiate at Brown's funeral service, details of which were still incomplete, Copsidas said. Sharpton said Tuesday that he and Brown's daughters planned to view Brown's body Tuesday afternoon at an Augusta funeral home and finalize funeral arrangements.
Brown's daughter-in-law Diane Dean Rouse told The Augusta Chronicle she hoped the funeral would be open to the people of Augusta.
"He would want it open because he would want everybody to get there and because that's who he loved," she said.
Brown won a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1992, as well as Grammys in 1965 for "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (best R&B recording) and for "Living In America" in 1987 (best R&B vocal performance, male.) He had a brief but memorable role on the big screen as a manic preacher in the 1980's movie "The Blues Brothers."
Brown, who lived in Beech Island, S.C., near the Georgia line, also had a turbulent personal life that included charges of abusing drugs and alcohol. After a widely publicized, drug-fueled confrontation with police in 1988 that ended in an interstate car chase, Brown spent 15 months in a South Carolina prison and 10 months in a work release program.
From the 1950s, when Brown had his first R&B hit, "Please, Please, Please" in 1956, through the mid-1970s, Brown went on a frenzy of cross-country tours, concerts and new songs. He earned the nickname "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business" and often tried to prove it to his fans, said Jay Ross, his lawyer of 15 years.
Brown's stage act was as memorable, and as imitated, as his records, with his twirls and spins and flowing cape, his repeated faints to the floor at the end.
With his tight pants, eye makeup and outrageous hair, Brown set the stage for younger stars such as Jackson and Prince. And the early rap generation overwhelmingly sampled his music and voice as they laid the foundation of hip-hop culture.
His trademark moment of each performance was at the end: A weary, spent Brown begins to leave the stage, a cape thrown over his shoulders, then suddenly stops, shakes the cape off and rushes back to grab the microphone, his voice and feet moving at top speed all over again.
"Disco is James Brown, hip-hop is James Brown, rap is James Brown; you know what I'm saying? You hear all the rappers, 90 percent of their music is me," Brown told The AP in 2003.
Brown was born in poverty in Barnwell, S.C., in 1933, and abandoned as a 4 year old to the care of relatives and friends. He grew up in Augusta in an "ill-repute area," as he once called it, learning how to hustle to survive.
By the eighth grade in 1949, Brown had served 3 1/2 years in reform school for breaking into cars. While there, he met Bobby Byrd, whose family took Brown into their home. Byrd also took Brown into his group, the Gospel Starlighters. Soon they changed their name to the Famous Flames and their style to hard R&B.
"He was dramatic to the end _ dying on Christmas Day," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a friend of Brown's since 1955. "Almost a dramatic, poetic moment. He'll be all over the news all over the world today. He would have it no other way."
Brown is survived by his partner, Tomi Rae Hynie, one of his backup singers, and at least four children _ two daughters and sons Daryl and James Brown II, Copsidas said.
Associated Press writers Hillel Italie in New York and Greg Bluestein in Atlanta contributed to this report.