Funk Singer Rick James Dies at Age 56

AP – Funk Singer Rick James Dies at Age 56

Funk legend Rick James, best known for the 1981 hit “Super Freak” before his career collapsed in a cloud of violent drug charges, died Friday. He was 56. James died in his sleep at his residence near Universal City, apparently of natural causes, said his publicist, Sujata Murthy. James lived alone and was found dead by his personal assistant, who notified police, she said. The exact cause was not immediately known. “There’ll be an autopsy and we’ll find that out shortly,” Murthy said.

With long hair elaborately styled in braids or Jheri curls, James was one of the biggest R&B stars of the 1980s, composing danceable rhythms and passionate ballads that gained a wide following. Aside from “Super Freak” – which MC Hammer used a decade later as the backing track for his rap smash “U Can’t Touch This” – James’ hits included “Mary Jane,””Ebony Eyes” and “Fire and Desire,” a stirring duet with Teena Marie. “He was really fantastic, he was a creator,” singer Little Richard told MSNBC.

Toward the end of the ’80s, James’ fame began to fade as he became embroiled in drugs, legal problems and health troubles. In 1993 he was convicted in two separate cases of assaulting women. The first case occurred in 1991, when prosecutors said James and his girlfriend tied a woman to a chair, burned her with a hot crack pipe and forced her to perform sex acts during a cocaine binge at his West Hollywood home. James was free on bail when the second assault occurred in 1992 in James’ hotel room. He served more than two years in Folsom Prison. In 1997 he released a new album, but a year later he suffered a stroke while performing at Denver’s Mammoth Events Center, derailing a comeback tour. In 1998 he also underwent hip replacement surgery.

James was not married and names of survivors were not immediately available, Murthy said. Funeral arrangements were being planned.

I initially entitled this post, “He’s Dead, Bitch!” but that seemed wrong somehow.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark says:

    Probably the rught call on the post title. Ironic that Rick James will be remembered by many soley because of the phrase “I’m Rick James, bitch!”

  2. Bithead says:

    Irony; Rick James doing a Coke Commercial.

  3. Eric Akawie says:

    Rick James is smoking the “sticky-icky” with Jesus now, and burning the Angels with crack pipes.

    (What am I saying? – there’s no way he got into heaven. Not after producing “Party All the Time” for Eddie Murphy.)

  4. It is unfortunate that as per usual the U.S. press and public seem to enjoy focusing more on sex, drugs, violence than the art produced by an individual. Perhaps the art requires too much intellectual involvement?