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Pop, Funk Pioneer Rick James Dies - 2004-08-07

Pop and funk pioneer Rick James was found dead at his home in Los Angeles on Friday. According to police, the 56-year-old singer and songwriter died of natural causes following years of substance abuse problems and declining health.

Blending funk rhythms with pop melodies, Rick James scored a Top 20 hit in 1981 with "Super Freak (Part 1)." When rapper M.C. Hammer used the instrumental track from the song for his own 1990's hit, "U Can't Touch This," Rick sued and won for co-writer's credit. Signed to the legendary Motown Records label in the late 1970's, Rick also established himself as a producer and songwriter for artists such as The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Teena Marie and Eddie Murphy. Rick's chart hits include "You And I," "Give It To Me Baby" and "17." He became known for his sensuous and elaborate stage shows and videos, some of which were banned from cable music television networks. His back-up vocal group was the provocatively dressed Mary Jane Girls.

A master of the art of musical fusion, Rick would often mix rock, funk and rhythm & blues with punk and disco.

In the early 1990's, Rick James was arrested for cocaine possession and assault. He received a jail sentence and went through extensive drug rehabilitation. He released the Urban Rhapsody album in 1997, as well as a greatest hits collection, but a year later he suffered a stroke during a comeback tour. His health problems were compounded in 1998 with hip replacement surgery. In the past few years, Rick had returned to performing and was planning to release a 30-song double album. He had also been negotiating a film deal based on his upcoming autobiography, Memoirs of a Super Freak. Rick had recently been honored with the Heritage Award from performing arts society, ASCAP. Backstage at the ceremony, Rick commented, "God sat me down to pay attention. Then he told me to get back up and hit the stage and I'm enjoying it."

On the morning of August 6, a caretaker discovered that Rick James had died in his Los Angeles home of natural causes. He was 56-years-old.