“Godfather of Soul” James Brown died in Atlanta, Ga., early Christmas morning after being admitted to Emory Crawford Long Hospital on Sunday with what his agent described as severe pneumonia. He was 73.
Brown died around 1:45 a.m. with his close friend, Charles Bobbit, at his bedside, according to his agent, Frank Copsidas of Intrigue Music, reports the Associated Press.
Brown’s death comes just as Eddie Murphy plays a feverishly dancing, smooth-talking James Brown-type in the new movie Dreamgirls.
In real life the dynamic showbiz veteran, who was known as the hardest-working man in show business, inspired generations of artists, from David Bowie to Michael Jackson, in his 50 years in the music industry.
Born May 3, 1933 in South Carolina during the Great Depression, Brown fine tuned his music in jail as a juvenile offender. He eventually turned professional in 1953.
Brown produced more than 119 chart-topping singles, including such hits as “Please, Please, Please,” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)” and “It’s a Man’s World,” and has sold over 500 million records over the years. He has received a Kennedy Center Honor, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a 1992 special Grammy for lifetime achievement, among his many achievements.
Taking a line from one of his signature refrains, the musician – whose rhythm-driven style connected gospel, soul, funk and hip-hop – told PEOPLE in 1994 that at 60 he still felt good. He also thanked God for making him “artist of the century.”
While he thrived professionally, Brown’s personal life was often tumultuous. He married for the first time in 1953, to Velma Warren, with whom he had two children. They divorced in 1969. In 1971 he married Deidre Jenkins. They had three children and divorced in 1981. Brown’s third wife (from 1984 until her death in 1996), Adrienne Rodriegues, had him arrested four times on charges of assault.
After brandishing a shotgun at a business symposium in his Augusta, Ga., offices and leading police on a 10-mile chase in 1988, Brown spent two years in a South Carolina prison.
Still, he claimed, his prison time wasn’t wasted. “It gave me time to get into the Bible,” Brown told PEOPLE a few years after his 1991 release. “Success doesn’t mean everything.”
Brown is survived by his fourth wife Tomi Rae, whom he wed in 2002 (and remarried in 2004 after a brief annulment). They have one child, a son James Jr.
“He was dramatic to the end – dying on Christmas Day,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a friend of Brown’s since 1955, told the AP. “Almost a dramatic, poetic moment. He’ll be all over the news all over the world today. He would have it no other way.”