Coolio Dies: Grammy-Winning Gangstas Paradise Rapper Was 59
Coolio, the Compton-raised rapper with the trademark braids who won a Grammy in 1996 for his hit No. 1 song “Gangsta’s Paradise” from the soundtrack of the Michelle Pfeiffer-starring film Dangerous Minds, died Wednesday in Los Angeles, his manager Jarez Posey told Deadline. He was 59.
No cause of death has been determined. Posey told TMZ that Coolio went to the bathroom at his friend’s house, but when he didn’t come out after a while he went in and found the rapper on the floor.
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Coolio had been playing concerts over the summer in South America and in Europe and as recently as last week in Chicago.
Born Artis Leon Ivey Jr. in Pennsylvania, Coolio was a volunteer firefighter for a time before turning to music. Coolio released a few non-charting single in the early 1990s before hitting it big in 1994 with “Fantastic Voyage,” a rap remake of the 1979 Lakeside song. It spent five long weeks at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and pushed his Tommy Boy LP It Takes a Thief into the Top 10. The album and single, which also made the Top 10 in New Zealand, both went platinum.
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“Gangsta’s Paradise,” the title track from the late-1995 album, was an international smash. The song was a rap take on “Pastime Paradise,” a track from Stevie Wonder’s Grammy-winning 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life, and topped the Billboard Hot 100 and other charts around the world, including the UK. It also won the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance and scored a pair of MTV Video Music Awards.
“Gangsta’s Paradise” was featured in the 1995 movie Dangerous Minds, whose soundtrack spent a month at No. 1 in the U.S. In the Disney pic, Pfeiffer played an ex-Marine teaching at an inner-city school. Based on the real life of LouAnne Thompson and adapted from her book, the film directed by John N. Smith bowed in August 1995 and would gross $195.5 million at the global box office.
He followed that success with another hit single, “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New),” which reached No. 5 in the U.S. That same year, Coolio wrote and performed “Aw, Here It Goes,” the theme song for Kenan & Kel, the Nickelodeon comedy starring Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. It played over the credits for more than 60 episodes.
Coolio continued to write, record and tour, but would not match those songs’ success. His 1996 single “It’s All the Way Live (Now)” — which sampled another Lakeside hit — dented the top 30, and the following year’s “C U When U Get There” with 40 Thevz” peaked at No. 12.
Coolio would eventually add reality TV star to his repertoire. He appeared as a housemate on Big Brother in 2009, and a year later appeared on Ultimate Big Brother, ultimately leaving the house after numerous conflicts with others in the house. He also was one of eight celebrities who appeared on the Food Network reality show Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off representing the Music Saves Lives Organization; he later became known for his cooking and wrote several cookbooks, including Cookin’ with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price in 2009, which would be a bestseller.
He also was featured on ABC’s Wife Swap and guest starred as himself in an episode on the first season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, where he helped Sabrina Spellman (Melissa Joan Hart), Zelda Spellman (Beth Broderick) and Hilda Spellman (Caroline Rhea) to look for their cat Salem, who was kidnapped by a little boy. His other credits include Gravity Falls, The Nanny and the Adult Swim show Black Jesus in an episodes titled “Gangsta’s Paradise.”
He was most recently cast in a recurring role on 2020 HBO Max pilot Vegas High. The 1990s-set coming-of-age story followed a girl (Hyanna Simpson) who’s caught between two worlds: the fast-paced lifestyle of Las Vegas and her strong Mormon faith and community. Coolio played the businessman uncle of Simpson’s character. The pilot was not picked up to series.
Coolio’s film credits as an actor include Batman & Robin and Dear God.
Deadline’s Erik Pedersen and Denise Petski contributed to this report.
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