The Family of Etta James Fights Over Her Estate


As Etta James lays on her death bed the true character of those around her will be revealed. Etta James is reportedly too ill to speak up about the feud brewing between her son Donto James and soon to be ex-husband Artis Mills over her estate. The always outspoken vivacious 73 year old blues singer suffers from dementia, leukemia, and numerous other ailments and is now bedridden at her ranch-style home in Riverside County, California.

Etta James seemed to go downhill starting a couple of years ago after dealing with drama with Beyonce. I always wondered if the incident effected her spirit. Unlike others I was able to clearly see that Etta James was hurt by Beyonce singing her song at the inauguration and that's why she made the comments she made towards Obama. She didn't mean it, it sounded as if she was pouting and upset. We all can agree she wouldn't kick Beyonce's ass as she said she would. It was a comment that reflected ENERGY. She was upset and felt disregarded that she wasn't told or asked if her beloved song "At Last" could be sung at an event that's like being on top of the highest mountain.

Etta James didn't grow up in the Internet Information Age, and I think the backlash she received during the Beyonce incident effected her emotionally. Many disrespectful youth thought that she was dead and believed Etta James should be happy someone like Beyonce was portraying her. The star, who has battled many addictions in the past, was reportedly in a rehab facility detoxifying and receiving treatment for an addiction to painkillers when she first fell ill. At that time she was admitted to the hospital for a blood infection.

Full Story After Break

The bedridden blues icon is too sick to speak up as her son and husband battle over her estate in court. Christine Pelisek reports on the sordid drama.

Once known for her feisty, outspoken riffs on stage, R & B icon Etta James can’t speak up about the vicious legal battle escalating between her husband and son over control of her savings.

Known for her signature catalogue of songs—“At Last,” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and “Call My Name”—the 73-year-old songbird suffers from dementia, leukemia, and numerous other ailments and is now bedridden at her ranch-style home in Riverside County, California.

“She is not really capable of making any rational decisions at this point,” said James’ court-appointed attorney Dennis Sandoval.

In fact, her ability to make decisions is at the heart of the family saga. Her son, Donto James, claims he has power of attorney over his mother’s affairs while her husband, Artis Mills, says she was in no condition to give him that sort of power. James’ erratic behavior at the time—which ranged from dozens of performances to strange comments and cancellations—have made this "he said, he said" all that much more difficult to decipher.

The rift began last November when Mills, James’ husband of 41 years and tour manager, filed a petition to gain access to three of the singer’s bank accounts, estimated to total around $1 million. He said he needed to pay for her business affairs and mounting medical bills. Mills says he spends around $30,000 a month for private medical care, which includes two full-time nurses and a round-the-clock doctor.

The following month, James’ son Donto, a drummer in his mother’s band, filed legal papers asking the court to grant him conservatorship of his mother’s estate. He also asked that the court appoint an independent administrator to handle her finances. There has been no mention of a living will.

Donto, who is Mills’ stepson, also questioned whether his mother is getting proper care by her $20,000-a-month live-in doctor, Dr. Elaine James.

“There are a lot of allegations flying everywhere,” said Sandoval.

Discovered in 1954, James, who was born Jamesetta Hawkins, became one of the most influential singers of her time, known for her bluesy riffs and slow burning melodies. Her rise to fame was hampered by a debilitating heroin addiction, stints in rehab, and troubles with the law.

By the late 1980s, the saucy and self-possessed singer had kicked her drug habit and hired a new manager, Lupe De Leon. James’ career flourished in the 1990s under his management. She won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance in 1994. But by the late 1990s, the 5’3" singer’s weight, which topped 400 pounds, began to prevent her from performing.

In 2001, she underwent gastric bypass surgery at a clinic run by Hollywood weight-loss surgeon Dr. Mathias Fobi, whose patients include Roseanne Barr and American Idol judge Randy Jackson.

It was at Fobi’s clinic where Etta James met Elaine James, a bariatric surgeon. According to the doctor, the singer had difficulty eating and became intermittently anorexic. James, who is no relation, regularly dropped by the singer’s house in Riverside to bring her chicken soup.

For the singer, who crooned about heartache and redemption and inspired generations of singers, her life and care is now left up to the courts to decide.

“She wouldn’t eat or drink,” said James about the singer she affectionately calls “Grandma.” Over the years, James visited the singer and even prepared a New Year’s Eve dinner for the singer and her husband.

Those years were filled with both bouts of sickness and creativity.

Read Part 2 of this Story at The Daily Beast

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