The Godfather of Soul has no shortage of storytellers. And every story has different versions, depending on who tells the tale.
Since James Brown’s death on Christmas Day in 2006, family members, business partners and friends say the truth has been embellished and commingled with myth. Now, as the movie chronicling his life hits theaters nationwide, they say they want to set the record straight.
Former business manager Larry Fridie, of Aiken, claims to have brokered the original deal for the movie and talked Brown into letting it be made. Brown’s son, Daryl Brown, who lives in New Jersey, is releasing a book on the same day as the national premiere of Get On Up. Among the book’s claims is that James Brown was the victim of homicide.
Neither of them was consulted by Get On Up producers, and they’re not happy about it.
“I’m talking about who the real James Brown is. I was the only one who knew it,” Fridie said.
Deanna Brown-Thomas, Brown’s daughter who runs a nonprofit group called the Brown Family Children Foundation, previously said that the movie’s director, Tate Taylor, talked to family and band members during production.
According to Fridie, Brown was superstitious that a movie and other efforts to preserve his legacy would lead to a premature death. He agreed under certain conditions nearly a decade before he died, Fridie said.
Brown wanted the movie filmed in his hometown of Augusta, for comedian Eddie Murphy to play his character and for his accomplishments – including his work for the poor and to improve race relations – to be portrayed. Fridie has a 1997 letter from Universal Studios agreeing to the movie deal, although the conditions are not specified.
“This movie deal is my baby,” Fridie said.
Fridie said he was paid for brokering the movie deal and wants some credit now that the movie has become reality.
“The folks who are working with this movie that’s coming out now weren’t around when James Brown was alive,” he said. “They didn’t have the pleasure of hearing him say what he wanted to come out in this movie. They could have asked me, but nobody did.”
Daryl Brown said he’s wanted to write a book on his father for four years, and the movie’s release pushed him to do it. He has seen only the trailer but already has doubts about the film’s accuracy.
“They didn’t portray him. This is a good time to write the book, write the truth,” he said.
Inside the Godfather will be released Aug. 1.
Daryl Brown, who co-wrote the book with Michael Chabries, said his publisher chose for the book and movie release dates to coincide. He thought it was a good idea to promote the book.
Brown said he can tell his father’s true story because he played in his band about seven years, growing close to him as they toured the world two times.
“My father’s so misunderstood. To understand him, you really have to walk with him,” he said.
The book is largely made up of first-person reminiscences from people close to Brown, such as his attorney, band members and Tomi Rae Hynie, who is known as Brown’s fourth wife.
Daryl Brown wrote his own first-person account for the book claiming his father was murdered but naming no suspects. James Brown was getting better under doctors’ care, then died suddenly. Daryl Brown found that – and the fact that an autopsy was not performed – suspicious.
“It just seems strange to me that everybody said he was fine, and then all of a sudden he was dead,” Brown wrote.
One of the book’s contributions came from William Murrell, an Augustan who was Brown’s limousine driver from 1995 until he died. Murrell said he was interviewed by Chabries at an Augusta hotel this summer.
Inaccuracies about Brown’s life hurt his legacy and draw attention away from the generosity of the soul singer, who was known for giving money to poor people, Murrell said.
“I wish people would focus on extending generosity. He didn’t really cherish money. He came from nothing. This man came from minus zero,” he said.
Murrell, too, said he wishes he had been consulted for the movie and that he wouldn’t have wanted money for doing so.