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Legendary singer James Brown, the 'Godfather of Soul,' dies at 73

Agent: The cause of death was congestive heart failure

    ATLANTA - Nicknamed the hardest working man in show business, James Brown told friends he still wanted to perform on New Year's Eve in New York despite being ill and in the hospital. But his heart gave out before he could make it there.   
    The dynamic, pompadoured "Godfather of Soul," whose rasping vocals and revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco as well, died early Monday of heart failure brought on by pneumonia, his agent said. He was 73.
    Brown was hospitalized with pneumonia at Emory Crawford Long Hospital on Saturday and died around 1:45 a.m. Monday, said his agent, Frank Copsidas of Intrigue Music. Longtime friend Charles Bobbit was by his side.   
    "People already know his history, but I would like for them to know he was a man who preached love from the stage," Bobbit said. "His thing was 'I never saw a person that I didn't love.' He was a true humanitarian who loved his country."
    President Bush issued a statement saying he and his wife, Laura, were saddened by news of Brown's death.  
    "For half a century, the innovative talent of the "Godfather of Soul" enriched our culture and influenced generations of musicians," Bush said. "An American original, his fans came from all walks of life and backgrounds. James Brown's family and friends are in our thoughts and prayers this Christmas."
    Copsidas told The Associated Press that the cause of death was heart failure brought on by pneumonia. He said doctors do not know what caused the pneumonia, only that Brown's illness was first discovered by his dentist during a recent appointment in Atlanta. Brown had diabetes, and he also had prostate cancer that was in remission, Bobbit said.
    Brown initially seemed to be fine when he was in the hospital and had even told people that he planned to be back on stage for the New Year's Eve performance, Copsidas said.
    Copsidas said Brown also had participated in his annual Christmas toy giveaway in Augusta on Friday.
    Bobbit said Brown was first hospitalized Saturday and that he grew progressively worse as time passed.
    "He had a cold and cough for some time, but he started coughing bad in the last few days," Bobbit said.
    He added, "The doctor we spoke to that was treating him said we could not do the first couple of shows but that there was a possibility if he got much better and could handle it we could be at B.B. King's for the New Year's Eve show," Bobbit said.
    The hospital has declined to comment on Brown's illness or death.  
    "James Brown changed music," said Rev. Al Sharpton, who toured with him in the 1970s and imitates his hairstyle to this day.   
    "He made soul music a world music," Sharpton said. "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."   
    Along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and a handful of others, Brown was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years. At least one generation idolized him, and sometimes openly copied him. His rapid-footed dancing inspired Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson among others. Songs such as David Bowie's "Fame," Prince's "Kiss," George Clinton's "Atomic Dog" and Sly and the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song" were clearly based on Brown's rhythms and vocal style.
    If Brown's claim to the invention of soul can be challenged by fans of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, then his rights to the genres of rap, disco and funk are beyond question. He was to rhythm and dance music what Dylan was to lyrics: the unchallenged popular innovator.
    "James presented obviously the best grooves," rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy once told The Associated Press. "To this day, there has been no one near as funky. No one's coming even close."
    His hit singles include such classics as "Out of Sight," "(Get Up I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud," a landmark 1968 statement of racial pride.
    "I clearly remember we were calling ourselves colored, and after the song, we were calling ourselves black," Brown said in a 2003 Associated Press interview. "The song showed even people to that day that lyrics and music and a song can change society."
    He won a Grammy award 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 was one of the initial artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, along with Presley, Chuck Berry and other founding fathers.
    He triumphed despite an often unhappy personal life. Brown, who lived in Beech Island near the Georgia line, spent more than two years in a South Carolina prison for aggravated assault and failing to stop for a police officer. After his release on in 1991, Brown said he wanted to "try to straighten out" rock music.
    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 would routinely lose two or three pounds each time he performed and kept his furious concert schedule in his later years even as he fought prostate cancer, Ross said.
    "He'd always give it his all to give his fans the type of show they expected," he said.
    With his tight pants, shimmering feet, eye makeup and outrageous hair, Brown set the stage for younger stars such as Michael Jackson and Prince.
    In 1986, he was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And rap stars of recent years overwhelmingly have borrowed his lyrics with a digital technique called sampling.
    Brown's work has been replayed by the Fat Boys, Ice-T, Public Enemy and a host of other rappers. "The music out there is only as good as my last record," Brown joked in a 1989 interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
    "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," he told the AP in 2003.
    Born in poverty in Barnwell, S.C., in 1933, he was abandoned as a 4-year-old to the care of relatives and friends and grew up on the streets of Augusta, Ga., in an "ill-repute area," as he once called it. There he learned to wheel and deal.
    "I wanted to be somebody," Brown said.
    By the eighth grade in 1949, Brown had served 3 1/2 years in Alto Reform School near Toccoa, Ga., 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.
    In January 1956, King Records of Cincinnati signed the group, and four months later "Please, Please, Please" was in the R&B Top Ten.
    Pete Allman, a radio personality in Las Vegas who had been friends with Brown for 15 years, credited Brown with jump-starting his career and motivating him personally and professionally.
    "He was a very positive person. There was no question he was the hardest working man in show business," Allman said. "I remember Mr. Brown as someone who always motivated me, got me reading the Bible."
    While most of Brown's life was glitz and glitter, he was plagued with charges of abusing drugs and alcohol and of hitting his third wife, Adrienne.
    In September 1988, Brown, high on PCP and carrying a shotgun, entered an insurance seminar next to his Augusta office. Police said he asked seminar participants if they were using his private restroom.
    Police chased Brown for a half-hour from Augusta into South Carolina and back to Georgia. The chase ended when police shot out the tires of his truck.
    Brown received a six-year prison sentence. He spent 15 months in a South Carolina prison and 10 months in a work release program before being paroled in February 1991. In 2003, the South Carolina parole board granted him a pardon for his crimes in that state.
    Soon after his release, Brown was on stage again with an audience that included millions of cable television viewers nationwide who watched the three-hour, pay-per-view concert at Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.
    Adrienne Brown died in 1996 in Los Angeles at age 47. She took PCP and several prescription drugs while she had a bad heart and was weak from cosmetic surgery two days earlier, the coroner said.
    More recently, he married his fourth wife, Tomi Raye Hynie, one of his backup singers. The couple had a son, James Jr.
    Two years later, Brown spent a week in a private Columbia hospital, recovering from what his agent said was dependency on painkillers. Brown's attorney, Albert "Buddy" Dallas, said the singer was exhausted from six years of road shows.
    His friends say he never lost his luster despite his transgressions.  
    "And he was dramatic to the end - dying on Christmas Day. With all of the focus on war and politics, James Brown will be centerstage all week," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a friend of Brown's since 1955.  
    Brown is survived by at least four children - two daughters; a son, Daryl; and a 5-year-old son, James Brown III, Copsidas said.

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