Hit maker, Rick James lived a rockstar lifestyle, and he seemingly left this Earth with absolutely no regrets. Many fans remember James as a wild child who was committed to a life of drugs, sex, and luxury. He created memories with his famous rockstar friends and superstar lovers that his fans later became acquainted with in Rick James’ autobiography, Glow, written with David Ritz and published posthumously after James passed from a heart attack. Though there are probably many wild Rick James stories left untold, which is probably best anyway, we have a few stories worth sharing of the funky rockstar’s life and times.
1. Rick James Made Prince Sob Like A Widdle Baby
James and Prince had quite the feud when the two were both living. He believed Prince stole his entire look, sound and even his dance moves. After regretfully bringing a younger Prince out on tour, Rick James recalled Prince’s band members to be stuck-up and rude. James’ disdain for Prince and his bandmates didn’t stop Prince and his crew from crashing James’ 32nd birthday party in 1980. James’ natural response was to grab Prince by the back of his hair and pour cognac down his throat until he spit it out and began to cry like a baby.
A few years later, Prince and James nearly came to blows at an after-party for the American Music Awards. It is said that Prince refused to give James’ mother an autograph. Prince later apologized, and a fight never happened. James said “I was a little disappointed cause I really did wanna kick his ass.”
Eventually, what gave Rick James the push to collaborate with actor and comedian, Eddie Murphy was that Murphy had initially gone in the studio with Prince but felt uneasy around him.
“There wasn’t anything I’d rather have done than write a hit for Eddie — and stick it in Prince’s ear,” James said.
2. His Encounter With Salvador Dalí
Rick James attended a dinner party in Hawaii where one of the other guests was world renowned surrealist artist, Salvador Dalí, who continuously stared at James throughout the night. Dalí finally said what he had been pondering on all evening, “Señor, I am mad about the way you look. Please allow me to sketch you.” The artist known most for his technical skill, precise craftsmanship and striking and bizarre images, spent 15 or 20 minutes drawing a portrait of James on his napkin which he gave to James. A priceless gift from the genius talent was essentially ruined by a reckless James. The following morning, Rick smoked a joint and went for a swim in the shorts he wore the night before, forgetting that he still held the napkin in his pockets. That precious Salvador Dalí portrait became an inky blob.
3. Fleeing the States & Avoiding War
In an effort to avoid the Vietnam War, a teenaged James fled to Canada in the ’60s. James, 14 or 15 at the time, lied and said he was 18 to join the Navy Reserve and avoid the draft. After two short weeks into training, James decided that there was “no point to any of this military crap.” He flaked on his twice-monthly sessions, and he was called up to Vietnam.
James escaped the Vietnam War draft by heading across the Canadian border from his hometown of Buffalo, New York. Unfortunately, as soon as he got into Toronto, three drunk white guys tried to beat him up for going AWOL.
“A trio of three other white guys saw what was happening and came running to my aid.”
Two of those three white guys were musicians, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm, who were playing backup for Ronnie Hawkins at the time, and later Bob Dylan collaborators in the band. He also became friendly with Joni Mitchell, staying up late nights together listening to jazz, and she suggested an introduction to Neil Young, who joined James in a band called the Mynah Birds. They were signed to Motown and prepared to release a single, which was got shelved when the U.S. armed forces caught up with James for going AWOL and imprisoned him.
4. Super Freak
Rick James was actually the “Super Freak” he so famously sang about in his Billboard No. 1 single. James was reported to have had relations with a number of famous women like his two year relationship with The Exorcist star Linda Blair, his time with supermodel Iman, dealings with his protégé Teena Marie who he wrote “Fire and Desire” with in 1981, and even his affair with Jan Gaye the wife of his friend and mentor Marvin Gaye. Yes, a wild man indeed!
The stories get a bit crazier after his mother’s health began declining in the early ’90s. James entered what he referenced as “the lowest level of hell,” partaking in various types of scandalous sexual activities and somewhat repulsive intimate matters that we would rather not disclose. For lack of better words, it got nasty!
He didn’t go into great detail about these acts in the book, but we’re certain that was with great intention and for the best. Regardless of what happened between those four walls, James’ freaky activities led to copious drug use, and in turn, a stint in jail for assaulting his then-girlfriend. He said in his autobiography, “there was nothing to keep me from descending into the lowest level of hell. That meant orgies. That meant sado-masochism. That even meant bestiality.”
5. Mary Jane Ain’t The Only Thing
Rick James was notorious for his risqué lyrics often singing about women and drugs, which was far from unusual throughout the history of music and especially during the ’70s and ’80s. James actually made his national TV debut on American Bandstand. He did so with a performance of his two popular singles at the time, “You and I” and of course, “Mary Jane,” alongside a very long interview with Dick Clark. The issue with James’ first problematic national television debut was that he had done so much cocaine backstage, his nose began running uncontrollably.
“I started sniffing and wiping myself until it had to be obvious to Dick and a million viewers what was really going on,” he recalled.
James’ history with the drug runs deep. At one point, he began selling drugs himself, so well that he became George Clinton’s dealer. Whenever Clinton made a stop in Toronto, James became his go-to delivery guy. One day, Clinton invited James to enjoy the product with him. The pair started chatting, and James showed off his musical skills. Clinton told him, “You shouldn’t be running no toot,” and encouraged him to sign with a label, offering to help as long as he “kept the good blow coming.”
Later, Rick James wild boy tendencies led him to smuggling product from other countries back over the border, something that his brother and manager LeRoi Johnson, learned when the pair took a trip to Colombia. On their way back to the states, James secretly stashed drugs in his brother’s bag.
Johnson said, “That was the kind of guy Rick was. He’d let his own brother be a fall guy and not tell you until you got back.”
6. A Generous Guy To His Closest Homies
Rick James lived a lavish life of luxury and enjoyed bringing his friends along to splurge with him. In the early ’80s, at the height of his success, he would give his crew as much as $80,000 in cash to ball out.
James purchased a great deal over his lifetime, and some of his rumored expensive purchases included dozens of pairs of cowboy boots, multiple Cartier watches for his many paramours, and a suit for every day of the year.
Rick James also let his entourage drive any of his impressive whips, which included multiple Mercedes, an Excalibur, and a vintage Rolls Royce.
The original heavy metal, funk-lovin’ singer and producer made the most of his life. If Rick James taught us anything, it is to live a life without any regrets and celebrate the fruits of your labor while you have the opportunity. Thanks for your many musical contributions, Rick James! Happy Birthday!