Funk Legend Rick James Found Dead

Funk legend Rick James was found dead at 9:45 a.m. PT this morning (Aug. 6) at his Los Angeles home by a caretaker, according to a police spokesperson. He was 56. The cause of death was believed to be

Funk legend Rick James was found dead at 9:45 a.m. PT this morning (Aug. 6) at his Los Angeles home by a caretaker, according to a police spokesperson. He was 56. The cause of death was believed to be natural. The artist had a history of drug problems that led to poor health in recent years, including a 1998 stroke.

Born James Johnson in Buffalo, N.Y., he was the nephew of singer Melvin Franklin of the Temptations. James was active on the Toronto music scene in the mid-'60s as a member of the Mynah Birds, which also included future Buffalo Springfield members Neil Young and Bruce Palmer. After that project collapsed when James was arrested for draft evasion, he relocated in the early '70s to Britain, where he formed the group Main Line.

Signed to Motown in 1977, James drew inspiration from the rocked-up avant-funk of George Clinton and Sly Stone. James scored his first No. 1 R&B hit and top 20 pop hit for Gordy Records with "You and I" in 1978. The lubricious top five R&B hits "Mary Jane" and "Bustin' Out" quickly followed.

James hit the apex of his career in 1981, when his album "Street Songs" went to No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 3 on the pop charts. That collection spawned the No. 1 R&B single "Give It to Me Baby," but its No. 3 successor, "Super Freak," enjoyed a longer life: A distinctive sample from the song powered M.C. Hammer's breakthrough 1990 smash "U Can't Touch This."

James found success at Motown through the '80s, producing chart numbers for the Temptations, Teena Marie, Eddie Murphy and the Mary Jane Girls and scoring R&B chart-toppers like "Cold Blooded" (1983) and "Loosey's Rap" (1988) in his own right.

But James' life and career went into a nosedive in the early '90s. In 1991 and 1992, he was arrested for assaults on two young women; one victim claimed that James and his girlfriend had imprisoned her in a West Hollywood hotel room and burned her with a hot crack pipe. During his trial, James admitted he was addicted to cocaine. In 1993, he was sentenced to five years and four months in jail; he was released in 1996.

James was recently honored with the Heritage Award from performing arts society ASCAP. Prior to the ceremony, he told Billboard he was planning to release a 30-song double-CD on his Sony/RED-distributed label, Ma Records.

"God sat me down to pay attention," James said about the stroke. "Then he told me to get back up and hit the stage, and I'm enjoying it."

James also claimed he was ready to retire from the music business "to do something more spiritual." His daughter Ty, a rapper, is recording and negotiating a deal for her own solo album.

The artist roared back into the public consciousness earlier this year thanks to a series of hilarious, oft-quoted sketches on Comedy Central's "Chapelle's Show." The show's host/creator, Dave Chappelle, was in early talks to star as James in a film based on his upcoming autobiography, "Memoirs of a Super Freak."