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Singing Legend Etta James Dies Of Leukemia Complications

Paige Brettingen |
January 20, 2012 | 9:13 a.m. PST

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Etta James (Creative Commons)
Etta James (Creative Commons)
Etta James, the soulful R & B star perhaps best known for the popular wedding tune "At Last," died from complications from leukemia on Friday morning at a hospital in Riverside.  She was 73.

James' friend and manager, Lupe De Leon confirmed the news to CNN:

"This is a tremendous loss for the family, her friends and fans around the world," De Leon said. "She was a true original who could sing it all – her music defied category. I worked with Etta for over 30 years. She was my friend and I will miss her always."

According to CNN, James "was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, and also suffered from dementia and hepatitis C. James died at a hospital in Riverside, California. She would have turned 74 Wednesday."

James, who was born Jamesetta Hawkins, was the child of a teenage single mother who had little role in her upbringing, reported CNN.  But James' voice was quickly noticed by South Central Los Angeles church.

In 1950, after her mother took her to San Francisco, James formed a music group called "The Peaches," and was discovered by Johnny Otis (known for "Willie and the Hand Jive").

Over the next decade, she became a singing sensation, as well as a heroin addict.  She also weighed about 400 lbs.

"It took over my life," the 5'3" singer told PEOPLE in 2006, shortly after she had successfully shed 235 of her 400 lbs. through gastric-bypass surgery. "You get up every day and look to score."

After attempts at treatment with little success, she finally overcame her addiction at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1988 and eventually "took back her life," said PEOPLE.

James is survived by her husband, Artis Mills, whom she married in 1969 and who went to jail for 10 years for the couple's heroin-possession charges, as well as her two sons, Donto and Sametto James.  Mills has also been trying to secure James' $1 million estate from her sons, according to PEOPLE.

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