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What are the circumstances surrounding the death of R&B great Sam Cooke?

Dear Cecil:

What were the circumstances surrounding the death of Sam Cooke? I only know he was shot in a hotel room.

Steve D., Evanston, Illinois

Cecil replies:

Sam Cooke, one of the biggest r&b stars of the late 50s and early 60s, met his sad end in the lobby of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles on December 11, 1964. Clad only in a top coat, he was shot and then beaten by Mrs. Bertha Lee Franklin, the motel manager.

The chain of events leading up to this bizarre incident apparently began in a quiet Hollywood bar, where Cooke met Linda Boyer, a 22-year-old Eurasian, and took her on a tour of Tinseltown night spots. The former gospel singer from Chicago was beginning to crack under the pressures of his career; with the death of one of his three children the year before, drowned in his swimming pool, Cooke had reportedly become a heavy drinker. When Boyer accepted Cooke’s offer of a ride home, he took her instead to the Hacienda, where the couple registered as “Mr. and Mrs. Sam Cooke.”

Once in the room, Cooke undressed and forced Boyer to do the same. When he stepped into the bathroom, she panicked, grabbed her clothes and his, and fled. Cooke, in a rage, ran to the reception desk where he accused Mrs. Franklin of hiding the girl, and began to slap her when she couldn’t answer. Franklin snatched a gun from her desk and fired three shots, striking Cooke once in the chest. She then picked up a piece of wood and beat him to the floor. Boyer was later found in hysterics, crouched in a phone booth half a block away from the motel.

In accordance with the James Dean principle, Cooke’s first posthumous single, “Shake,” became a hit, reaching the number seven spot on Billboard’s chart where his last release, “Cousin of Mine,” had only managed a 31. There’s nothing like sudden death to give your career a good shot in the arm–ask Jim Croce–but of the other six Cooke singles RCA released in 1965, none made the top ten. Cooke’s last side was “Let’s Go Steady Again”–a rather poignant appeal from a dead man, but evidently not poignant enough. It was number 97 for one week.

Cecil Adams

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