After James Brown died in 2006 it was reported that he’d succumbed to heart failure. However, in the years since the singer’s passing, a number of questions have emerged regarding his mysterious death. Then, in 2019, his doctor came forward to make his suspicions known.
Brown is one of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century. His career spanned 50 years and produced a string of famous hits including “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” As a result of his influence, Brown became known as the “Godfather of Soul.”
Brown had come a long way from his humble beginnings. He was born in a shack in Barnwell, South Carolina, on May 3, 1933, to parents Joseph and Susie Brown. Massively poor, the family lived together in Elko, South Carolina, until they moved to Augusta, Georgia, when Brown was just four or five. Still, life was tough for the youngster, who lived for a while in an aunt’s brothel and spent time alone after his mom left the family to escape her abusive marriage.
During his formative years, music was no doubt an escape for the young Brown. He started performing in talent shows at an early age, winning one at the Lenox Theater in Augusta during 1944, with his rendition of a track titled “So Long.” In the early stages of World War II Brown also entertained passing troops from the nearby Camp Gordon.
However, Brown’s path to stardom wasn’t straightforward. As a teen, he had a brief stint working as a boxer. Then, aged 16, Brown was sent to a juvenile detention center in Toccoa, GA, after committing a robbery. However, it was during his incarceration that Brown met the singer Bobby Byrd, who claimed that he helped the talent to secure an early release. Indeed, Byrd would later play an influential part in Brown’s fledgling career.
Soon after Brown’s release from juvie in June 1952 he joined the Ever-Ready Gospel Singers group, of which Byrd’s sister Sarah was a member. However, in 1954 Brown joined Byrd’s R&B group, which would become known as The Famous Flames. It was during this part of his career that Brown first came to public attention, thanks to the group’s hits “Try Me” and “Please, Please, Please.”
It was also during Brown’s time with The Famous Flames that he became known for his energetic live performances. The singer continued to entertain his audiences in much the same way throughout his career, incorporating complex dance moves like slides and splits into his shows to create an iconic stage presence.
During the 1960s Brown enjoyed major success with his Live At The Apollo album, which was released under the band name James Brown and the Famous Flames. As the decade progressed, he also voiced a number of hit R&B singles. However, by the late ’60s, Brown’s sound had begun to mutate, and by the early 1970s, he was seen as the originator of funk.
Over this period of his career, Brown formed a new band known as The J.B.s. And it was with them that the singer enjoyed success with tracks such as “The Payback” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.” Aside from Funk and R&B, Brown was also known for more political music, which included the 1968 song “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
Brown continued to release albums until 2002 and performed live until his death in 2006 at the age of 73. However, even in the years since his passing, Brown’s legacy has continued. He was ranked at number seven on Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list. And according to the publication, he is also the most-sampled artist ever.
Given those statistics, it’s no surprise that Brown’s death on Christmas Day 2006 led to an outpouring of tributes from fans and fellow musicians alike. Among the people to attend the various memorials for Brown were stars including Michael Jackson, Prince, 50 Cent and Stevie Wonder. Meanwhile, a private family ceremony was also held for Brown on December 29, 2006, in South Carolina.
Following Brown’s death, it was reported that the singer had fallen victim to congestive heart failure as a result of complications with pneumonia. His longtime manager Charles Bobbit was by Brown’s side as he passed away. And speaking after Brown’s death in 2006, Bobbit told TV news network CNN the singer’s last words had been, “I’m going away tonight.”
And for a while, when it came to Brown’s death, it was this version of events that were widely accepted. However, in 2019 a number of people came forward to ask for a new inquiry into how the singer had passed. That’s because the doctor who’d signed Brown’s death certificate back in 2006 revealed he had some suspicions regarding his famous patient’s final moments.
In an interview with CNN in 2019 Dr. Marvin Crawford said he had his doubts that Brown had died of natural causes. Crawford explained, “He changed too fast… He was a patient I would never have predicted would have coded. … But he died that night, and I did raise that question: What went wrong in that room?”
Crawford revealed that he suspected Brown had died of an overdose, which may have been accidental. With that in mind, he thought that an autopsy would have been useful. However, Crawford claims that Brown’s daughter, Yamma Brown Lumar, declined. So for him, there were still some unanswered questions regarding Brown’s death.
Crawford wasn’t the only one who had their suspicions regarding the way that Brown had died. In the very same CNN article that the doctor had made his concerns known, singer Jacquelyn Hollander also expressed her worries around the truth behind Brown’s death. And it was her belief that he’d been murdered.
Hollander alleged that the doctor who’d been looking after Brown prior to his death had told her that he had been due for release from hospital the next day, but the singer had then taken a mysterious turn for the worse. She also claimed that one of Brown’s friends believed the singer had been murdered so strongly, that he had even taken a sample of blood from his body in the hope it would prove foul play.
Hollander had something of a checkered past with Brown. In 2005 she filed a lawsuit against the famous singer, claiming he had raped her in 1988. Hollander also alleged that Brown had threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the supposed assault. Furthermore, several people have reportedly backed up Hollander’s claims that Brown spied on her for a number of years.
After the rape case went to court, Hollander’s allegations against Brown were dismissed by the judge. That was because she had missed the period for filing the suit in the years she had kept silent. Hollander subsequently tried to get her case heard by the Supreme Court, but her appeal came to nothing.
Despite her claims against Brown, Hollander had been close friends with his third wife, Adrienne Brown. And alongside her suspicions that Brown himself had been murdered, Hollander was also convinced that Adrienne had also met with foul play. In fact, she claimed that many people linked with Brown had ultimately met an untimely end.
According to Hollander, Brown was at the head of a Mafia-like organization. And she told CNN that the so-called “mob’s” modus operandi included “control, fear, intimidation [and] lies.” With that in mind, Hollander claimed that Adrienne was killed after she dared to come up against the powers-that-be within Brown’s alleged operation.
Adrienne died in 1996. Her official cause of death stated that she succumbed to an accidental overdose, after taking too many painkillers following cosmetic surgery. However, Hollander claimed that Adrienne had been murdered after she made a number of domestic violence accusations against Brown.
Brown had married Adrienne in 1984. And between 1987 and 1995 he was arrested on four occasions for assaulting her. According to Hollander, Adrienne was intimidated into dropping the charges against the singer by men working for him. She went on to make further accusations of domestic violence against Brown, but died before they could come to trial.
Following Adrienne’s death at the age of 45, Hollander said she told police and reporters that she suspected foul play. Even when authorities claimed otherwise, she continued to voice her concerns. She never gave up, and so for 21 years she clung onto the name of the detective who’d worked on Adrienne’s case: Steven Miller.
CNN writer Thomas Lake managed to track Miller down during an investigation into Adrienne and Brown’s deaths spanning almost two years. Ahead of his interview with the reporter in 2017, the police detective revisited some of the evidence he’d compiled on Adrienne’s case. And it was then that he stumbled on a previously overlooked note from an informant.
After Miller took a deeper look at an informant’s notebook that he’d received in 2001, according to CNN, he found phrases such as “murder for hire” and “make it look like an overdose.” The evidence seemed to back up Hollander’s suspicions that Adrienne had indeed met with foul play. And interestingly, it came from a woman who Hollander had never met.
Miller’s informant claimed she’d had a relationship with a doctor (known to CNN, but not named by them) in the months following Adrienne’s death in 1996. And that man apparently confessed to her that he had killed Brown’s wife by switching her pills and making her death look like an overdose. Futhermore, the doctor Miller’s informant had implicated in the murder was known to the detective as he had visited him while investigating Adrienne’s case.
Other people admitted to having questions about Adrienne’s death, Hollander among them. In fact, Brown’s fourth wife, Tomi Rae Brown (née Hynie), told CNN that even the singer believed Adrienne may have been murdered. And the evidence from Miller’s informant only seemed to corroborate their suspicions.
However, when Lake approached the doctor Miller’s informant had accused as part of his CNN investigation, the man denied he had anything to do with Adrienne’s death. He asserted that his memory was hazy due to Alzheimer’s disease. However, the doctor insisted, “I know I had nothing to do with anything you’re talking about.”
Following Adrienne’s death, Brown appeared to grieve for his late wife. Then, a couple of years later, he met and fell in love with Hynie. The couple married in 2001 and as their relationship progressed, she too accused her husband of domestic violence. Like Adrienne before her, she was also wary of the people who surrounded her husband, and she began to fear for her own safety.
In a clip from the obscure documentary movie A Tale of James Brown, Tomi Rae can be heard saying, “This is my last chance to get away from something that I’m convinced is going to kill me… And I wouldn’t be the first, so.” She later told CNN that she was comparing her situation to that of Adrienne’s and in doing so expressed her own belief that Brown’s ex-wife had met with foul play.
In the end, Tomi Rae would escape the situation alive. However, Brown would not. A year after his wife’s remarks about feeling her life was in danger, Brown died in mysterious circumstances. As a result, Tomi Rae has since wondered if her husband was murdered. And that is a mystery that still remains unsolved.
As of February 2019, when Lake’s investigation was published by CNN, there were 11 people linked to Brown that had questions regarding his death. They included friends and family members, as well as Brown’s doctor and Andre White – the guy who took the vial of blood from the singer. However, that number doesn’t include Brown’s son-in-law Darren Lumar or his illegitimate daughter LaRhonda Pettit, who had both died before Lake could speak to them.
Adding to the mysterious circumstances surrounding Brown’s death, his son-in-law Lumar was murdered in 2008. He was ambushed near his home and shot five times in what police later claimed looked like a contract killing. A year beforehand he had claimed that he knew Brown had been murdered on Atlanta’s local TV news. No one has yet been brought to justice over Lumar’s death.
Meanwhile, three years prior to her death, Brown’s daughter Pettit had alleged her father’s crypt was empty. “My daddy’s body has disappeared,” she apparently told the tabloid newspaper The Globe. “I’m convinced his death was suspicious and I want the people responsible brought to justice… The only way to do that is to exhume his body and have an autopsy. I cannot understand why one was never conducted.”
Pettit isn’t the only person to have wondered why an autopsy was not performed on Brown’s body over the years. In fact, that was one of 15 unanswered questions Lake had remaining after his extended investigation into Brown’s death. Specifically, Lake wondered why Brown’s family would decline an autopsy, even after Crawford had recommended one.
In Lake’s report for CNN he was also confused by an unverified account given to him by Andre White. In it, White claimed that a nurse had given him the vial of Brown’s blood because she was also concerned that the singer had been murdered. She apparently told White that Brown had been visited by a stranger in his hospital bed, after which his vital signs began to decline rapidly.
There are also some questions regarding comments Brown made to a former colleague prior to his death suggesting he was about to leave the South – and the powerful people who surrounded him there – behind. He and Tomi Rae had allegedly made secret plans to escape to New York, where Brown might have had more control over his life and assets.
There are also rumors suggesting that Brown had another will. The one that was officially put forth named Brown’s six living adult children as heirs, but excluded Tomi Rae and Brown’s youngest son, James Brown II. However, the second will reportedly gave Tomi Rae a significant claim to her late husband’s estate.
If these claims are true, the situation surrounding Brown’s death would echo that of Adrienne’s 11 years prior. Like Tomi Rae, she too had tried to separate Brown from the people she believed were controlling him, even though she was worried that her life was in danger. And on both occasions, someone went into a medical facility, never to come out alive.