The 72-year-old recording star, best known for her bluesy hit ballad “At Last,” grew ill after entering a detoxification center a month ago for treatment of an addiction to painkillers and over-the-counter medicine, Donto James told Reuters.
As her condition worsened, she was moved to a nursing facility, and then to Riverside Community Hospital, near her home east of Los Angeles, he said.
“She’s been in a pretty big battle,” said Donto James, her eldest son.
The performer is being treated for a number of ailments, including sepsis, a potentially fatal infection spread through the bloodstream, which in her case is believed to have started from a urinary tract infection, her son said.
He said that illness may have been a recurrence of an infection that she had around the time she performed “At Last” on the ABC show “Dancing with the Stars” last April.
Donto James, who played in his mother’s backing band and is CEO of an addiction-recovery home in Riverside, said his mother also is suffering from speech difficulties, the cause of which he said had yet to be pinpointed.
He believes that lingering illness may have contributed to her public outburst last year over Beyonce’s performance of “At Last” at an inaugural ball for President Barack Obama. James expressed anger that someone else sang her signature song for the president.
Her son said doctors at the Riverside hospital are planning to discharge James “very soon” and transfer her to a skilled nursing facility for follow-up care. He is not sure she is well enough to be released.
With songs like “The Wallflower” and “Good Rockin’ Daddy,” the three-time Grammy winner was a key figure in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, though she diversified throughout her long career into mainstream blues, soul and R&B.
James had numerous ups-and-downs in her career and personal life, struggling with obesity and heroin addiction. In 2003 she underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost more than 200 pounds.