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Sam Cooke's Sad Demise

Sam Cooke started out as a gospel singer, working in groups like the Soul Stirrers. He moved on to pop music and has great success with songs like You Send Me, Chain Gang, and Twistin' the Night Away. He had become one of the great soul singers of the 60's, and was taking a big new step in his career by releasing a protest song influenced by Bob Dylan, A Change Is Gonna Come. Hw as looking to start his own label and was positioned to become a major force in the music industry. But not all was well in the world of Sam Cooke. 

Sam's wife had given him two daughters before she delivered the son he had always wanted, but Sam got it in his head that the boy did not look like him. He began beating his wife, who turned increasingly to drugs in an effort to escape the abuse in the only way she could. Then the boy was left unattended and fell in the pool and drowned. Now that the child was gone, Sam decided he was his child after all and blamed his wife for the boy's death. Unfortunately, this was not the end of tragedy in Sam's life.

On the night of December 11, 1964 Sam picked up a young woman at a club and they spent the evening together. She had asked Sam to take her home but instead he took her to a motel. She said that he stripped her down to her underwear and tried to force her into sex. When he went into the bathroom, she scooped up her clothes, and most of his, and made good her escape. She tried without effect to get the manager's help, but ended up running off to a payphone to call the cops. Same meanwhile had come and found both his date and his clothes missing. He burst in on the motel manager naked except for a jacket and one show. He demanded to know where "the girl" was, and attacked the manager who shot him in self defense. His last words were "Lady, you shot me." He died on the floor of the motel office.

There were almost immediately all sorts of conspiracy theories about what "really happened", despite the facts seeming to line up with what the motel manager Sam's "date" told police, and the fact that another witness who was on the phone with the manager at the time and overheard the whole episode verified the manager's story. Both Elvis and James Brown apparently thought Sam's record label did him in. There were other rumors that the mob or the Nation of Islam had offed him. The woman who he had taken to the motel ended up suing his estate because of having to go into hiding after Sam's fans had harassed her and sent her death threats. There are still allegations that she is a thief or a hooker or both (none with very convincing evidence that I have seen). It seems the sad truth is that Sam (almost certainly under the influence) tried to do something terrible and was the victim of instant karma.

Bobby Womack and Sam's daughter Linda
The story gets even more sordid after Sam's death, if that's possible. His widow later married his guitar player, Bobby Womack, after waiting for Bobby to turn 21 so he could legally marry without his parents' permission. He wore one of Sam's suits to his wedding, and often remarked about his resemblance to Sam. This annoyed Sam's brothers (one of whom had cashed in on Sam's death by rerecording songs Sam had recorded and going on tour) and they attacked Bobby, forcing Sam's widow to draw a gun on them. Bobby and the former Mrs. Cooke had a son, who they gave the same name as Sam's dead son. After several years Mrs. Womack discovered that Bobby had been having sex with her and Sam's oldest daughter since she was twelve. Mrs. Womack kicked Bobby out, but the daughter chose to go with him and they stayed together for a while, even having a career together as recording artists. Daughter and mother never spoke again.


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