The cause of death of the '80s funk legend, who died Friday, remains a mystery

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated August 09, 2004 08:55 AM

An autopsy Saturday failed to determine the cause of death for ’80s funk legend Rick James, 56, who died in his sleep Friday at his home near Universal City, Calif., authorities said.

Officials are awaiting results of a toxicology test, which could take several weeks, Lt. David Smith, supervising investigator of the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, tells the Associated Press.

James’s three children – daughter Ty and sons Rick Jr. and Tazman – said through a spokeswoman on Friday that they believe their father died of heart failure. The singer, a diabetic who also had a pacemaker, suffered a stroke in 1998.

James sold some 3 million albums thanks to his 1981 hit “Super Freak” (about “a very kinky girl”), and he went on to produce hits for artists such as Eddie Murphy (“Party All the Time”), Teena Marie and the Temptations.

But the Grammy winner also struggled with drug addiction and legal trouble. In 1993 he and then-girlfriend Tanya Hijazi were convicted of beating and imprisoning a woman in a Hollywood hotel room a year prior, and he also was convicted of furnishing cocaine to another woman. James was sent to Folsom State Prison for three years.

By 1997, James was out of prison and ready for a comeback, both professionally and personally. He released a new album (Urban Rhapsody) and married Hijazi after an 11-year relationship.

James’s death occurred just as he was developing plans for a movie based on his autobiography, Memoirs of a Super Freak, which he was reportedly still writing.

Comedian Dave Chappelle was named as a possibility to star as James – a role that he already had played (for laughs) in various sketches on his Comedy Central series Chappelle’s Show.

James is survived by his wife, three children and two grandchildren.