Autopsy dismisses foul play in BB King death

BB King's daughters had alleged foul play in his death. AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - An autopsy has found that BB King died of natural causes, rejecting his daughters' claims of foul play that cast an unseemly shadow over the last rites for the blues legend.

The coroner in Las Vegas, where the "King of the Blues" died at age 89 on May 14, said that the guitar great died primarily due to Alzheimer's disease.

"At this point, we can say with confidence that Mr King died of natural causes," John Fudenberg, the coroner for Clark County, said in a statement made public Tuesday.

"Our condolences go out to the family and many friends of Mr King, and we hope this determination brings them some measure of closure."

King, one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th century, was still performing until months before his death, before returning home and eventually moving into hospice care.

Two of his daughters - Karen Williams and Patty King - have alleged that he was poisoned by his caregivers.

The family had a longstanding feud with LaVerne Toney, his business manager and estate executor, whom it also accused of financial impropriety.

Weeks before King died, pictures emerged of the famously courtly guitarist looking despondent on a bed as the daughters accused Toney of elder abuse.

Toney felt vindication over the autopsy report.

"It is unfortunate that Mr King's body had to be subjected to a needless autopsy based on fictional assertions," said E. Brent Bryson, a lawyer for Toney.

"Perhaps we can now focus on the body of musical work Mr King left the world and stop the witch-hunt so that Mr King may now finally rest in peace," he said in a statement.

King and Williams did not immediately comment.


King's estate is estimated to be worth US$10 million (S$13 million) if not much more. The itinerant artist was rarely clear about his personal life and often said he had 15 children by 15 women.

The autopsy said that King, along with Alzheimer's disease, faced a host of conditions that contributed to his death, including congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes and cerebrovascular disease.

A doctor who cared for King earlier said he died of dementia. The coroner said that had been "a reasonable conclusion" without a full autopsy.

The coroner's office carried out the autopsy, including toxicology tests, in response to the claims of foul play.

Las Vegas police did not pursue the case, saying it was waiting for the coroner's report before seeing if an investigation was warranted.


Despite the sordid controversy following his death, King was buried on May 30 near a museum bearing his name in his native Mississippi.

His body lay in an open casket at a public viewing, clad in a tuxedo and surrounded by two Gibson guitars - his so-called "Lucille" instrument, which he often referred to as "my woman."

Mourners first carried his casket in a procession down Beale Street in Memphis, where the sharecropper's son had his start in the music business.

An earlier wake took place at a funeral home in Las Vegas, along with a tribute concert led by another daughter, Shirley King.

King for decades performed virtually every night as he declared himself an ambassador of the blues, the melancholy music born in the African American South.

His style of guitar-playing - with crisp, emotive notes without chords or slides - served as a major influence on generations of rock musicians including Eric Clapton.

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