Hours after her singing-legend husband, James Brown, died on Christmas morning from heart failure, Tomi Rae Hynie arrived at the mansion they had shared on Beech Island, South Carolina, only to be denied entry.
The grieving widow complained to reporters that she and the couple's five-year-old son reached the house late on Monday to find its wrought-iron gates padlocked and all access denied by security guards on the orders of the singer's lawyer and accountant.
That the musical legacy of the "Godfather of Soul" will endure way beyond his demise, aged 73, should come as a surprise to nobody. Less predictable, perhaps, was the immediate reminder to his legion fans of the turbulence that had been his private life. Brown's lawyer, Buddy Dallas, alleged that the singer and Ms Hynie were not legally married.
"It's not a reflection on her as an individual," Mr Dallas said yesterday of the decision to lock her out of the home. "I have not even been in the house, nor will I until appropriate protocol is followed."
Mr Dallas claimed that Ms Hynie, one of Brown's backing singers, was already married to another man when, aged 32, she became Brown's fourth wife in 2001. Ms Hynie has admitted being "married" before, but claims this first relationship was never consummated and was eventually annulled, making James Brown her first husband. "The guy was from Pakistan," she said. "He wanted to enter the US. I was young and desperate. A judge told me I was never legally married." Mr Dallas insisted, however, that she and Brown were not legally married in 2004, nor at any other time. "I suppose it would mean she was, from time to time, a guest in Mr Brown's home," he contended.
Whatever the true nature of their relationship, the singer pleaded guilty in 2004 to domestic abuse, but was let off with a fine after being accused of pushing Ms Hynie to the floor and threatening to kill her.
Ms Hynie conceded to reporters that she had no deed to the house but said she had a right to live there. "This is my home," she said. "I don't have anywhere to go." But Mr Dallas said she had another home close to the mansion. "It's not intended, and I hope not interpreted, [as] an act of unkindness or an act of a lack of sympathy," Mr Dallas said. "She is not without housing or home."
Ms Hynie said she had been at a retreat on Monday when news of her husband's death reached her. She travelled to the hospital in Atlanta and then to Brown's mansion. "The last thing he said to me," she said, "was, 'I love you baby and I'll see you soon'."
Brown, who liked to describe himself as the hardest working man in showbusiness was, as usual, in spite of accumulating health problems, in the middle of a long string of concert commitments when he fell ill. He had been scheduled to play a concert in Times Square, New York, on New Year's Eve.
He was admitted to hospital on Saturday and diagnosed with severe pneumonia. By Sunday, his doctors said he should be well enough for the New Year's Eve engagement. But he died of heart failure early on Monday.
Charles Bobbit, his manager and close friend, said the singer may have known he was dying. "He was having pain before, but then the pain went away and he told me 'I'm going away tonight'," Mr Bobbit said. "I didn't believe him."