Tupac Shakur, the brilliant but tortured rap artist whose lyrics told of a life of guns, gangs and regrets, died Friday in a Las Vegas hospital, six days after he was shot four times in a street ambush near the gambling city’s lavish strip. He was 25.
The rapper, whose “All Eyez on Me” album entered the national sales charts at No. 1 in February, was pronounced dead at 4:03 p.m. at University Medical Center of respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest, a hospital spokesman said.
As soon as reports of the death were confirmed, Los Angeles rap and hip-hop radio stations began playing Shakur’s records and airing tributes to the rapper.
At Long Beach’s VIP Records, which has become a local landmark for rap artists and fans, Lawanda Cole, 16, held back tears as she talked about the loss of her favorite recording artist.
“I said, ‘He got shot before. He’s going to survive.’ I hope he’s in a good place. My mom said he’s down there,” she said, pointing toward the floor, “but I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who prayed with Shakur’s mother at the rapper’s bedside on Sunday, was broken up by the news.
“This is so, so sad,” said Jackson by phone from his home in Chicago. “Sometimes the lure of violent culture is so magnetic that even when one overcomes it with material success, it continues to call. He couldn’t break the cycle.”
Police said Shakur, who was in Las Vegas last Saturday to attend the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon boxing title match with an entourage from Death Row Records, was shot while in a car with label co-founder and president Marion “Suge” Knight. As Knight drove to his Club 662 after the fight about 11:15 p.m., a white Cadillac pulled alongside his BMW and opened fire.
Shakur was taken to University Medical Center, where surgeons removed his right lung. He remained on a respirator in intensive care until his death. Knight was grazed in the head by a bullet fragment, but suffered only minor injuries.
The rapper’s death--the latest in a series of violent episodes in the short but troubled history of Death Row--closed one of the most successful and controversial chapters in the notorious music style that has been widely attacked for its celebration of violence and drugs.
At its best, however, rap has also served over the last decade as a revealing chronicle of the anger and pain of a social underclass--a contemporary form of the classic blues.
Along with such artists as Ice Cube and Chuck D., Shakur was among the most gifted of those voices, writing from his own experiences--and his own demons.
Bursting on the rap scene in 1991 with the hit album “2Pacalypse Now,” Shakur went on to sell more than $90 million in records.
In both his music and his life, Shakur, who recorded under the name 2Pac, had trouble resolving the conflicting sides of his personality.
Shakur often boasted of his “gangsta” ties and had the words “Thug Life” tattooed across his abdomen.
At a 1992 festival in Marin County, Shakur was involved in a scuffle that left a 6-year-old dead, killed by a stray bullet. The next year, he was accused--but never convicted--of shooting two off-duty Atlanta police officers. On Nov. 30, 1994, he was shot five times during a robbery in the lobby of a Manhattan recording studio.
Despite his tough-guy exploits, there is a layer of discontent and doubt beneath the swagger of his most introspective songs that recalls the troubled isolation of Marvin Gaye.
His best known song, 1995’s Grammy-nominated “Dear Mama,” was a tender expression of love for his mother--and his thanks for all the sacrifices she had made.
“I wish I could take the pain away,” he wrote in the song. “If you can make it through the night, there’s a brighter day.”
But his music included elements of misogyny and violence that celebrated the gangsta lifestyle.
“Don’t wanna be anotha statistic out here doin’ nothin’ ,” he said in another song. “Trying to maintain in this dirty game, keep it real, and I will even if it kills me.”
Since entering the hospital late Saturday night, Shakur had been listed in critical condition. Doctors at the hospital had said earlier in the week that four bullets struck Shakur, and the two wounds to the chest were the most life-threatening. The wounds caused extensive internal bleeding that doctors tried for two days to stop.
No arrests have been made and police have expressed frustration over the lack of eyewitness details. Knight, with three lawyers, talked to investigators Wednesday but was of no help, police said.
Shakur was free on $1.4 million bail after serving eight months in a New York prison following his conviction last year on two counts of sexual abuse for offensive touching without consent.
Shakur was born into conflict. His mother, Afeni Shakur, was a member of the Black Panther Party and spent part of the time she was pregnant with him in prison. As a member of the New York 21, she was accused--and subsequently acquitted--of conspiring to bomb department stores and police stations.
Born in New York City in 1971, Tupac Amaru Shakur made his acting debut at age 13 in a production of “Raisin in the Sun” at the Apollo Theater in a benefit for Jackson’s 1984 presidential bid. He soon moved with his family to Baltimore, briefly attending that city’s High School for the Performing Arts. It was there that he began writing rap, before dropping out and moving to the Oakland area where, he once said, he began learning about the criminal world of dope dealers and thugs who became father figures to him.
A fledgling film actor who co-starred with Janet Jackson in 1993’s “Poetic Justice,” the photogenic Shakur had recently completed a role as a detective for the Orion picture “Gang Related.”
“We believe he was on the verge of crossing over and breaking out into superstardom as far as his acting career goes,” said Brad Krevoy, one of the film’s producers.
Shakur also portrays a heroin addict battling his addiction in the recently completed Def Pictures/PolyGram Pictures film “Gridlock.”
The impact of Shakur’s death may be similar to the reaction to Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994. The Nirvana lead singer’s act elicited such strong waves of sorrow from young fans--who found Cobain’s lyrics of alienation and anguish reflections of their own lives--that there was widespread fear of copycat suicides.
KPWR-FM program director Michelle Mercer said the response by fans to Shakur’s death reflects disparate cultural experience.
Said Mercer: “The difference between the two musics and cultures is, unfortunately, people in [the rap] community live with death all too often.”
Times staff writers Greg Braxton, Jeff Leeds, Bob Welkos and Frank B. Williams and correspondent Steve Hochman contributed to this story.
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