Did Musician James Brown Die From Natural Causes, Or Was He Murdered?

Some believe the ‘Godfather of Soul’ met with foul play when hospitalized for pneumonia.

James Brown performs at Madison Square Garden circa 1960's in New York City, New York.

Did legendary performer James Brown pass away after suffering a heart attack while battling an illness, or was his death the result of foul play? It’s a question some close to the star have debated.

Photo by: Walter Iooss Jr via Getty Images

Walter Iooss Jr via Getty Images

By: Aaron Rasmussen

Did legendary performer James Brown pass away after suffering a heart attack while battling an illness, or was his death the result of foul play? It’s a question some close to the star have debated.

On Christmas Eve 2006, Brown was admitted to the hospital with a case of pneumonia. By early the next afternoon, Christmas Day, the 73-year-old “Godfather of Soul” was pronounced dead from what medical experts said was congestive heart failure.

Despite the determination, speculation surrounding Brown’s death was rife. A nurse later reportedly recalled seeing a stranger go into the singer’s hospital room. Shortly after, his vital signs began to rapidly decline, and the nurse believed the person may have put something into Brown’s endotracheal tube. Based on what the witness said, as Brown took his last breaths, he cryptically told his business manager, “They got me.”

Darren Lumar, the husband of James Brown’s youngest child, Dr. Yamma Brown, also had suspicions the entertainer was killed. “Darren thought that one of dad’s background singers put something in his IV and murdered him,” Yamma says.

“He wanted me to get an autopsy, and I refused,” she says, explaining she had “no reason” to suspect anything but natural causes killed her famous father.

By October 2007, Yamma and Darren divorced. A year later, tragedy struck again.

On Nov. 5, 2008, Darren was shot at a townhouse in a gated community in Atlanta and drove himself to an area hospital, where he later died. A male suspect was seen fleeing the scene of the shooting.

At the time, investigators didn’t believe robbery was a motive in the case since the victim had $4,000 on him and nothing appeared to be missing from his home.

An autopsy showed Darren’s thumb had been shot off. According to Yamma, her ex-husband used to suck his thumb, even as an adult, while in thought or to soothe himself. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is personal,” she says, “and then I got scared.”

While Yamma feared whoever shot Darren may have known him well and could also be acquainted with their children, retired Atlanta PD Detective Tyrone Dennis theorizes the missing thumb could also just be the result of Darren using his hands to block and defend himself against the ambushing gunman’s bullets.

As investigators hunted for Darren’s killer, they looked deeper into his background. Yamma says her ex-husband managed projects, and he used his association with her famous father to write “checks he couldn’t cash.”

“He just used that as a way to put himself on a pedestal to gain business,” Yamma says. “In reality, he really didn’t have the financial backing.”

According to Yamma, her former spouse was “trying to be a big baller and didn’t have money in the bank.”

Yamma and Darren’s daughter, Sydney Lumar, recounts seeing her father get into physical altercations with other people “about business” right before he was killed.

Det. Dennis says Darren may have owed people money as his business dealings floundered, and he believes “that is a huge part in what could have led to his demise.”

In one case, Darren was accused of swindling a pastor out of $140,000. Another time, Yamma claims, Darren threatened to kill a person because of a business deal gone wrong and hung them out a window “by their bare hands.”

She believes her husband’s murder was a case of “retaliation.”

Adding another layer to the case, citing police reports, Det. Dennis says the couple got into a fight the night before James Brown’s burial, and Yamma cut her husband’s arm with a paring knife. Though Darren denied the allegations, Yamma claims he beat her and she had to grab the knife to keep him from hurting her more.

Despite the incident, Det. Dennis says there is no evidence linking Yamma to anything to do with Darren’s death. “Darren could have been murdered for a number of reasons,” he says.

The detective speculates someone could even have been trying to silence Darren because he was so vocal about his belief his superstar father-in-law was murdered.

Camille Solari, a documentarian who followed around and filmed James Brown before his death recalls the entertainer’s security was extreme and he had admitted to her there were people who didn’t like him. “His people were suspicious about people’s motives,” Solari says, “and I did feel that James Brown had some destructive people around him.”

James Brown went from living in a shack while growing up in Augusta, Georgia, to the height of superstardom thanks to his incomparable talent and prodigious work ethic. By his death in 2006, the star’s worth was estimated to be around $100 million, making financial gain a strong motive in a potential murder case. Still, Solari says she doesn’t believe James Brown was the victim of a crime

Until his own death almost two years later, Darren firmly believed his father-in-law died from foul play.

No suspects have been identified or charged in connection with Darren’s murder, and that case remains open.

Anyone with information about the shooting death of Darren Lumar is urged to submit a tip anonymously to Crime Stoppers Atlanta at (404) 577-8477 or at www.StopCrimeAtl.org.

For more on this case, stream Death by Fame: "Murder by Association" on Max.

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