08/06/2004 at 03:35 PM EDT
Rick James, the funk singer and wild man who rose to fame in the '80s for his hit song "Super Freak," was found dead in his Los Angeles home by his caretaker on Friday, a police spokeswoman said. He was 56.
James died at 9:45 a.m. at a residence near Universal City, Officer Esther Reyes tells the Associated Press.
"He died apparently of natural causes. We learned of his death after responding to a radio call," Reyes said.
Publicist Maureen O'Connor, speaking for James's three children, said they believed he died of heart failure, and "passed away peacefully in his sleep."
James, who strutted around in braided hair and spandex pants, sold some 3 million albums thanks to his 1981 hit about "a very kinky girl," and he went on to produce hits for artists such as Eddie Murphy ("Party All the Time"), Teena Marie and the Temptations.
But the Grammy winner had his share of demons, struggling with drug addiction and legal trouble. In 1993 he and then-girlfriend Tanya Hijazi were convicted of beating and imprisoning a woman in a Hollywood hotel room a year prior, and he also was convicted of furnishing cocaine to another woman. James was sent to Folsom State Prison for three years.
By 1997, James was out of prison and ready to attempt a comeback, both professionally and personally. He released a new album (Urban Rhapsody) and married Hijazi after an 11-year relationship.