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Before he started to slide, Brown racked up 15 No. 1 R.-and-B. hits; amassed a personal empire that included radio stations in Augusta, Knoxville and Baltimore; and inspired later generations of rock 'n' rollers, including Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson. So great was his influence with young blacks that he was summoned to Boston and Washington to cool off race riots during 1968. He eagerly ticks off the Presidents he has met and supported, including George Bush. "I've been the American Dream," Brown plaintively notes. "When you say Old Glory, I'm a part of it. It's just very bad that sometimes the country forgets."
These days, Brown feels abandoned by the black and white musicians who became famous by copying his style and gyrating dance techniques. He says, "The only two people who have shown love and respect for James Brown are Little Richard and Al Sharpton," the New York City preacher who stirred up a storm over the purported rape of Tawana Brawley and is now organizing a campaign to gain Brown's early release. Complains Sharpton, who sports a Brown-style hairdo: "The country would never have done this to Elvis."
Brown is not eligible for parole until 1992. His lawyers, who are working on an appeal, may seek a form of work release. Brown says what he misses most are his fans, touring overseas and fooling around until 3 or 4 in the morning with friends. "I'm well rested now," says the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business, "but I miss being tired."