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How the Godfather of Funk, James Brown, ended up in prison


James Brown was always a daring performer. In fact, some would claim that he even perpetrated a crime against The Rolling Stones and every other act who he wiped the floor with when he delivered a set of such explosive bravura on The T.A.M.I. Show that Sputnik was in danger of being taken out of orbit. But the answer to how he sustained his supersonic energy levels would soon become clear. 

By the time the 1980s swung into the picture, the Godfather of Funk was looking a bit less like a grooving Don Vito Corleone and more like a dysfunctional Tony Montana. His tumultuous times finally came to the fore in 1988 when an incident led to the star embarking on a remarkable six years prison sentence. While there is nothing that noteworthy about wild times ending up behind bars, we are so used to stars skirting a sentence that the notion of Brown in orange overalls is an image that you can hardly picture.

The odious incident that led to his incarceration is just as bizarre. At some point in September 1988, allegedly high on PCP, he stormed into the insurance company next to his office and claimed that his toilet was being used by strangers from their side of the building. The major issue was that he was waving a shotgun around too. And when the police arrived, he made it clear that his erratic behaviour was not about to subside anytime soon. 

His showmanship was fine when The Rolling Stones were crying for mercy, but now his bravura had spiralled out of control and entered an ugly unabating territory whereby his ego had left the stage and entered debauched everyday oblivion. As if the shotgun waving incident hadn’t been dangerous enough, the Godfather of Funk put more lives at risk by fleeing into his vehicle and leading the police on a high-speed pursuit through Georgia and South Carolina. 

At one point he openly tried to ram the police cars off the road with his pickup truck. The pursuing officers subsequently shot out two of his tires, but the deranged Brown somehow managed to drive on for another six miles on the rims alone. When his car finally ground to an unceremonious halt and he was arrested, further details came to light of the strange incidents that had occurred in a truly tempestuous period. For instance, his wife already had an existing lawsuit filed against him for riddling her $35,000 mink coat with bullet holes.

He served just over three years of his sentence before being released. However, his freedom was short-lived. In 1998, the exact same charges befell him when he discharged a rifle in his house and later led the attending officers on yet another high-speed chase. Sensing that substance abuse was the cause of his downfall, the authorities order him to a rehab facility. However, further crimes and discrepancies would occur thereafter in the chequered life of the funk progenitor. He was capable of immense highs as a performer and artist, but incidents like the remarkably chauvinistic interview below are indicative of the dark side of his comedown.