Wu-Tang Clan cofounder ODB dies mysteriously. The eccentric rapper loses consciousness at a New York recording studio and is found dead two days before his 36th birthday

By Gary Susman
Updated November 15, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST
Ol' Dirty Bastard
Credit: ODB: Frank Franklin II/AP/Wide World

Rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard, whose influential work as a founder of Wu-Tang Clan was often eclipsed by his erratic behavior and his legal and drug woes, died suddenly at a Manhattan recording studio on Saturday, two days before his 36th birthday. He had complained of chest pains and breathing problems earlier in the day, a spokesperson said in a statement, before losing consciousness in the studio lounge late in the afternoon, and paramedics were unable to revive him. The cause of death was unclear. Manager Jarred Weisfeld told MTV News that the rapper had long been drug-free; results of an autopsy conducted Sunday would not be available for up to 10 days, the medical examiner’s office told the Associated Press.

Born Russell Jones, ODB renamed himself often, taking on such monikers as Big Baby Jesus, Osirus, and Dirt McGirt. In the early 1990s, he founded Wu-Tang Clan with cousins GZA (Gary Grice) and RZA (Robert Diggs). The Staten Island rap collective became one of the dominant forces in East Coast rap with the release of group efforts like 1993’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and solo projects by the nine members. ODB’s included 1995’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (featuring the hit ”Shimmy Shimmy Ya”) and 1999’s Nigga Please, which included his biggest hit, ”Got Your Money.”

But it was ODB’s antics away from the mic that seemed to earn him the most notoriety. He reportedly fathered 13 children by several different women, though Iceline Jones, his wife of 13 years, told the New York Post, ”For the record, he only has three children.” At the Grammys in 1998, he interrupted Shawn Colvin’s acceptance speech to complain about Wu-Tang’s loss to Sean Combs in an earlier category. He was shot twice and was arrested numerous times for offenses ranging from traffic violations and shoplifting to attempted assault on Iceline. In late 2000, he walked out of court-ordered rehab and was a fugitive for a month, during which he showed up onstage at a Wu-Tang concert. For violating his probation, he spent nearly three years behind bars. Released in 2003, he signed with Roc-A-Fella Records and vowed to record a comeback album, which he was working on at the time of his death.

”All of us in the Roc-A-Fella family are shocked and saddened by the sudden and tragic death or our brother and friend,” said Roc-A-Fella chief Damon Dash in a statement. ”Russell inspired all of us with his spirit, wit and tremendous heart…. I’m taking it hard,” Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah told the New York Post. ”That was my brother, my heart, my soul, my pride, my joy. I guess he’s with the Father now. He’s in good hands.” Other musicians paid tribute to ODB at Sunday’s American Music Awards. Pharrell Williams, who had produced some of the rapper’s final sessions, called his death a ”shame” and said the rap community ”should stick together a little more and it won’t hurt as much next time.” From the stage, OutKast’s Big Boi gave ODB a shout-out during an acceptance speech. ”Rest in peace Old Dirty Bastard,” he said. ”We love you.”