James Brown lived a lot of life. So it’s inevitable then that the James Brown biopic Get On Up — even with a running time of 138 minutes — might have to leave some of it out. (Read our review of the movie here.) The fact that it’s PG-13 means that the more scandalous parts of the singer’s life go untouched. Born in the post-Reconstructionist South in 1933, James Brown went on to become the “Godfather of Soul,” first as part of a group (the best known iteration is the Famous Flames), and then as a solo artist. Throughout his life, he met multiple presidents, courted many women, and performed plenty of illegal activities. Vulture read RJ Smith’s biography on James Brown, The One, to imagine what other stories could have been told if some premium cable channel suddenly decides to do a raunch-and-drug-filled miniseries.
1. He was electrocuted for four minutes as a kid.
Part of the James Brown lore is that he was “stillborn” and that his aunt breathed life into him. It made him believe that he was invincible. In another childhood anecdote, a pre-adolescent Brown was leaning against an air compressor at the gas station where his dad worked when a short circuit sent an electric current through him—singing his hair and melting his shoes to his feet. He became a legend in the neighborhood as the kid that couldn’t be killed.
2. James Brown pretended to be Little Richard in performances.
When Little Richard had his hit “Tutti Frutti,” he went to Los Angeles, leaving several weeks of commitments open around the South. They shared the same agent, so James Brown filled in as Little Richard. At a show in Alabama they knew it wasn’t him, and chanted, “We want Richard!” Brown rose to the challenge, doing backflips around the stage until they no longer cared that he was an impostor.
3. He stole “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” from a woman.
Betty Jean Newsome, a woman he had met at the Apollo, was traveling with him when he heard her singing a song she had come up with. Brown took it, added some words, and put it out under his own name: “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” She had to take him to court to get a songwriting credit. She said, “God don’t like ugly and he sure don’t go along with thieves!” It wouldn’t be the only time Brown would be accused of theft: J.C. Davis, a saxophonist, confronted Brown about stealing his song “Night Train.” Davis said that Brown said the song would be released under his name, but when he found out that it wasn’t, he drove down to Tampa, where Brown was, and confronted him with a gun. He got kicked out of the group.
4. He started gunfights in the club.
Often at Club 15 in Macon, Georgia, Brown would get into brawls with other men, often over women. He went after soul singer Joe Tex after Tex did a performance making fun of Brown’s cape act. In the melee, seven people got shot, but the injured parties were given $100 each and told not to create any more trouble. Money!
5. He was physically abusive and a philanderer.
Brown learned a lot from watching his own father physically abuse his mother, and repeated the same actions with the women in his life. He would often court women who sang with him, and would abuse them until they couldn’t take it anymore. In one of the more egregious instances, he allegedly hit one of them, Tammi Terrell, with a hammer.
6. His racial politics were, um, complicated.
The movie largely sidesteps a lot of James Brown’s politics. He supported then-vice-president Hubert Humphrey during his presidential campaign, only to turn around and perform at Richard Nixon’s inauguration. He was friendly with the notoriously racist Strom Thurmond, but also performed at civil-rights events. He released “America Is My Home,” which many black leaders read as critical of black power and the anti-war movement, only to release “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” soon afterward. He was an individualist at heart, and while he recognized the need to fight for equal rights, he didn’t like the idea of something being “given” to you. In a way, he preferred a separatist America, where blacks fended for themselves by creating their own institutions of support.
7. He climbed up a 300-foot radio tower in Ciudad Acuña just across the Rio Grande in Mexico.
You know, for fun.
8. He performed in The Blues Brothers with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.
Dan Aykroyd’s performance as his manager Ben Bart in Get on Up has double significance, because James Brown performed with Aykroyd in the 1980 musical as a church leader who guides the way for the two protagonists. He would later also appear in 1985’s Rocky IV, singing the super patriotic, “Living in America,” and two years later he guest-starred on a particularly insane late-series episode of Miami Vice.
9. He had a lavish funeral for his dog Poojie.
The family poodle Poojie died when the maid accidentally swung the door open too quickly and cracked the dog’s head. Brown buried the dog in a white casket and held a funeral at his house in Augusta.
10. He had a special obsession with Elvis.
He constantly compared himself to Elvis Presley, who Brown felt was the only other artist comparable to him in his lifetime. When he heard that Elvis died, he received a private viewing of the body where he cried over it, saying, “Elvis, you rat. I’m not number two no more …”
11. His relationship with Adrienne Lois Rodriguez was insane.
They met on the set of the TV show Solid Gold, on which Rodriguez worked as a hairstylist. Brown told Sharpton to get her number. The two fell in love, got married (she would be Brown’s third wife), and had a tumultuous relationship: They were both addicted to PCP; she called the cops on him a number of times for domestic violence; she once stabbed a woman in the butt who she thought was sleeping with Brown; she set his clothes on fire; she allegedly put PCP into his creamed corn. In 1996, she died after undergoing liposuction owing to a combination of PCP and prescription medications.
12. He kept performing even though he was dying.
Brown kept up a rigorous tour schedule well into his 70s. His trumpeter Hollie Farris remembered they were doing a show in South America when the doctor gave him shots, put a catheter in him, only to take it out, do a one-and-a-half-hour show, and then come back and put the catheter back in. In another performance in Tbilisi, Georgia, Brown performed in a swimming facility with the stage at the edge of the pool. Brown jumped into the pool at the climax of “Sex Machine” and had to be fished out by his bandmates. He got back onstage and finished the song.