Brown still unburied as family wages legal battle

January 28, 2007|By New York Times News Service

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- More than a month after the death of the legendary soul singer James Brown, his body has not been laid to rest, a circumstance that has dismayed his friends and bewildered residents here in the town that has honored him as a native son.

"He wrote a song about this," said Charles A. Reid Jr., a funeral director and lifelong friend who has custody of Brown's body while his survivors and the trustees of his estate squabble over control. "`Papa Don't Take No Mess.' That's what he'd be hollering now."

The six children Brown's acknowledged in his will want his body placed in a mausoleum on his 60-acre property just across the South Carolina state line near the Savannah River, an estate they hope will become a museum and memorial park akin to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tenn., which has long been a lucrative tourist attraction. But the children are in a financial dispute with the trustees of the Brown estate, and it is possible Brown will not be laid to rest until it is settled.

In recent weeks, Brown's body, sealed in a gleaming gold-painted coffin, has been kept in a temperature-controlled room at his Beech Island, S.C., home.

Since late December, when Brown was given a star-studded send-off complete with costume changes between memorial services in three cities, his final wishes have been the subject of at least two lawsuits. Still, a spokeswoman for the six children insisted that logistics was causing the wait.

"It's only been a month since he died," said the spokeswoman, Debra Opri, a Beverly Hills lawyer. "They're trying to get engineers out to the site, they're getting a mausoleum done. The property may have to be rezoned. That kind of thing."

It is not clear, however, that Brown's children will control what happens to the 60-acre property, where they have said they would like his tomb to be placed.

In a will read to survivors Jan. 11, Brown left the bulk of his assets, including the Beech Island property and the copyrights to his extensive music catalog, in the care of three of his business managers, who are trustees of his estate.

The six children were left to divide Brown's personal effects, a bequest of significantly less value. Those children and eight of Brown's grandchildren filed a lawsuit last week in Aiken, S.C., to remove the three trustees, alleging mismanagement of their father's finances and conflicts of interest.

A letter included in the court filings against the trustees suggests that all three men, Alfred A. Bradley, Albert H. Dallas and David G. Cannon, stand to profit from the sale of Brown's music catalog, a deal that is being negotiated.

In a separate legal matter involving Brown, Tomie Rae Hynie, who married him in 2001, has also filed a lawsuit claiming half of Brown's estate for herself and her 5-year-old son, James Brown Jr.

It is not clear whether they were married at the time of Brown's death. Until that lawsuit is settled, however, Hynie has no legal right to Brown's remains.

Dallas, who was also Brown's personal lawyer, said, "I'm sorry that the way Mr. Brown left his estate displeases his children, but it was for Mr. Brown to decide how to leave his estate, and it's very clearly spelled out."

He added that Brown left his estate to support a foundation to educate needy children who wanted to study music. "While there is breath left in my body, I will carry out those wishes," Dallas said.

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