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Saturday, December 30, 2006

The last ride

Longtime driver hits the road with coffin

BY AUSTIN FENNER in Augusta, Ga. and NICOLE BODE in New York

William Murrell drove Brown's body 800 miles from Augusta, Ga., to Harlem.
James Brown's loyal chauffeur was called into service one more time in a last-minute scramble to get the Godfather of Soul to the Apollo on time.

William Murrell, who had shuttled the music legend around for the past 15 years, drove Brown's body on an 800-mile pilgrimage from Augusta, Ga., to Harlem - a trip that took him from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. yesterday.

"I drove him in life, and I drove him in death," said Murrell, 47. "I can't say no to Mr. Brown."

The coffin had arrived too late at the funeral home for staff there to make a scheduled flight out of Atlanta. And the remaining flights that could carry the remains were all booked as well.

Without a second thought, Murrell yanked the backseats out of his Ford van and loaded up. He and a co-worker piloted the Ford Club Wagon van up I-95 with the Rev. Al Sharpton, the funeral home director and Brown's 24-karat gold-plated coffin in back.

"We talked the whole time," added Murrell who owns a transportation company in Augusta. "Old times, the good old days, all the fun that we had, all the people he touched, the lives that he changed. It went on and on."

And as soon as they reached New York, they flipped on the radio to find Brown's songs playing nonstop.

The incredible journey started with a frantic phone call from the C.A. Reid Sr. funeral home around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday telling Murrell there was trouble.

The custom-designed coffin - which needed its blue lining replaced with a special one of white satin - was running late.

There was no time to make the 2-1/2-hour trip from Augusta to Atlanta in time for the 7:45 p.m. scheduled Delta flight - or any other flights that night - they said.

All charter flights were booked, including Murrell's two planes. And eager crowds were already massing in Harlem to say goodbye.

"They had to get him to the Apollo. They tried everything," said Murrell, "It was my last chance to give him a ride of a lifetime."

posted by Steve @ 2:07:00 AM

2:07:00 AM

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