With a huge fan base across all ages and communities, Rick James' death saddened but did not shock the world. He had tampered with drug usage and violence throughout his whole life.
In fact, excess doesn't even begin to cover the lifestyle of the punk-funk icon.
Best known for his 1981 hit, Super Freak, James is remembered for transiting his way through funk music, only to become a legend. He died at his residence in Los Angeles at 56 in 2004.
Rick James had a long journey of ups and downs till the end as the punk-funk pioneer had a way with music, substance abuse, and women.
The Formative Years Of Rick James
Rick was born to Mabel and James Ambrose John Sr. on February 1, 1948, in Buffalo, New York. His real was James Ambrose Johnson Jr., but he used the name Rick James for not-so-obvious reasons.
As a boy, he accompanied his mother to the bar she worked in. He saw John Coltrane, Mile Davis, and Etta James perform there.
You can see that his musical prowess got its finesse at an early age. He even got the musical genes from his uncle, Melvin Franklin of The Temptations.
Rick James' death could also be perceived through the looking glass of the past.
His childhood and teenage years were muddled with drugs and petty offenses. He had a knack for finding loopholes for his convenience. The introduction to music was through his participation in bands through his teens. Moreover, to avoid conscription in the United States Navy Reserve, he lied about his age. He missed the Reserve Sessions and got deported to Vietnam.
These years formed the base for Rick James' death.
Rick James - A Musical Genius
Rick James or Ricky James Matthews, the name he used in Canada, created The Mynah Birds with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. He adopted his stage name while trying to evade the law.
Soon after the band's success, Rick James spent a year in jail for his Vietnam draft evasion. He got in a scuffle with the investor of the band, who ended up exposing him.
After getting released, he moved to Los Angeles. To earn his livelihood for a while, he got into the pimping business. Because of social charisma, he got noticed by Jay Sebring, a celebrity hairstylist and Manson's victim. Sebring agreed to invest in his career, but he was murdered with Sharon Tate before he could do anything.
Rick was too hungover to go to Sharon Tate's house with Sebring, so he avoided certain death by the Manson family. But his tendencies towards drugs and addiction converted a creative artist into an abuser.
The Downward Spiral Before Rick James' Death
It is no secret that many artists use drugs, but Rick James' case was on another level. Not only was he an addict, but he also relished the thoughts, which are evident in the lyrics of his music:
"I'm in love with Mary Jane. She's my main thing. She makes me feel alright. She makes my heart sing."
Mockery of the habit of drug usage at Chappelle's Show a few months before Rick James' death was a sign of how strong his addiction was.
Starting with drugs during his teenage years was just a hint towards his future. He admired the adventures these drugs brought him. He took heroin and loved crack fervently and spent lavishly on drugs. He had spent $7000 every week for five years on cocaine, on an estimate.
Way before Rick James' death, he had been admitted to the hospitals several times. In 1984, he was taken to a medical facility when he blacked out at a friend's house.
Moreover, he had even spent two years jail time on drug consumption.
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, a recovered addict, tried to help James. But Rick was having none of it, saying:
"Half of what he says is bullshit, but his bullshit is so brilliant I don't care if it's true or not."
All the drug abuse ravaged his body and mind through and through and eventually caused Rick James' death.
A Tango With Women And Convictions
The long history of drug use, convictions, and charges against him created a tumultuous career shift. Rick James was accused of assaulting women and kidnapping on occasions. The music executive Mary Sauger accused him of beating her up under the influence of cocaine for 20-hours.
He was also accused of sexually assaulting women. The suits were rejected later.
James' deteriorated health had already stopped his career. After his jail release in the mid-90s, he tried to make a comeback in the music industry but to no avail. He suffered from a minor heart attack in 1998 which further ensured his decline.
A woman came forward 16 years after Rick James' death, accusing him of rape. The alleged rape took place in a group home called Richmond Avenue in 1979. The women said:
"Almost immediately, Rick James was very suggestive and inappropriate towards me. He made me feel very uncomfortable."
Rick James Died Of Heart Attack And Nine Different Drugs
The final blow to Rick's fragile health was his mom's death. At the time, he said:
"There was nothing to keep me from descending into the lowest level of hell. That meant orgies. That meant sado-masochism. That even meant bestiality."
Rick James' death did not surprise anyone who knew about his drug abuse and medical history. He had diabetes, a pacemaker, and had previously suffered minor strokes. That did not stop his drug abuse.
Even in the autopsy after Rick James' death, a total of 9 drugs were found. These included alprazolam, diazepam, bupropion, citalopram, hydrocodone, digoxin, chlorpheniramine, methamphetamine, and cocaine.
His insane lifestyle did turn out to be a cause of concern for his near ones. His relentless attitude towards his life, music and habits made him Rick James that people know of. But he left the world being the inventor of punk-funk to reminisce about and cherish.
Rick James' lifestyle did not allow him to grow to his full potential as an artist. But, what's even worse is that Rick James' death was something he accepted casually, long before he was gone.