Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004

Rick James

Fabulous Flameout It is a testament to the greatness of Rick James' greatest hit, Super Freak, that those who would surely take offense were they to read the song's lyrics on the page-"She's a very kinky girl/ The kind you don't take home to mother"-probably danced to it at their wedding. James died of a heart attack that was most likely hastened by the "at least nine drugs" coroners found in his system. He was never a model of restraint. Raised in Buffalo, N.Y., by a single mother who ran numbers for the mob, James first discovered he could move a crowd at a school talent show. After a draft-dodging sojourn to Canada, he returned to the U.S. and signed a deal with Motown. (His uncle, Melvin Franklin, was an original member of the Temptations.) In 1981 James released Super Freak, his masterpiece about a sex-starved groupie, and for a moment, he eclipsed Prince as rock's libidinal funk hero. The rest of his life, though, was spent battling a cocaine addiction fueled by his Super Freak royalties. James laughed when comedian Dave Chappelle mocked him as a high priest of lost talent and lasciviousness; he thought Chappelle should play him in the movie of his life. You can guess what James wanted to call it.