Afeni Shakur, the former Black Panther who inspired the work of her son, rap icon Tupac Shakur, and fostered his legacy for decades after he was slain, has died of an apparent heart attack, authorities said Tuesday. She was 69.
Responding to a 911 call to Shakur’s home in Sausalito Monday night, deputies and firefighters performed CPR, rushed her to a hospital and tried to revive her for about an hour, but “she had in fact died from what is believed to be some kind of cardiac event,” Marin County Sheriff’s Lt. Doug Pittman said.
A statement from her family and the Tupac Shakur estate, Amaru Entertainment, mourned her loss.
“Afeni embodied strength, resilience, wisdom and love. She was a pioneer for social change and was committed to building a more peaceful world,” it read in part. “Her spirit will forever inspire all of those who had the honor and privilege of knowing her.”
The statement also quoted “Dear Mama,” the classic hit her son wrote about her: “You always was a black queen, mama.”
Born Alice Faye Williams, Shakur changed her name when she became politically active in the 1960s and joined the Black Panther movement. By 1971, she was pregnant and behind bars, accused of conspiring to bomb New York City landmarks.
She said the charges were brought after the Panthers took over a school to make a point about continuing to educate children during a teacher’s strike in 1968.
Recalling the case years later, she said they were accused of conspiring to commit murder and arson, to blow up the Bronx Botanical Garden and the Abercrombie & Fitch and Macy’s department stores, and even police stations. All the charges were ultimately dismissed, and her son was born soon after she left jail.
She named him Tupac Amaru, after the last Incan emperor, who led a rebellion and refused to surrender to Spanish conquistadors.
As Afeni Shakur bounced from New York City to Baltimore to California, she became addicted to drugs and struggled as a single mother. Still, she managed to enroll Tupac in arts schools and other programs where he honed the musical and acting skills that would make him a hip-hop icon.
“Arts can save children, no matter what’s going on in their homes,” she told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview. “I wasn’t available to do the right things for my son. If not for the arts, my child would’ve been lost.”
But Afeni Shakur left a deep impression on her son, helping to shape a world view that later made him stand out among other young rappers, with songs reflecting his own rebellious attitude toward racism, poverty, violence and other social problems.
Tupac, in turn, revered his mother, praising her in his 1995 elegy, “Dear Mama,” a hit song many fans recalled Tuesday in tweets and posts.
“You are appreciated,” he says, rapping about the sacrifices she made for him and his sister, Sekyiwa Shakur. “Ain’t a woman alive that could take my mama’s place.”
Tupac Shakur died in a still-unsolved drive-by shooting in 1996, at age 25. Conspiracies about his killers flourished. His mother considered them a waste of time.
“We decided to deal with the living. This is justice for me,” she said in 2005. “I need to do what God has put in front of me to do, and it ain’t trying to figure out who killed Tupac.”
For the last two decades of her life, Afeni Shakur focused on keeping her son’s legacy alive while managing his musical catalog.
She opened the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts in Georgia — a project focused on helping at-risk youth that is now defunct.
She also co-produced a Broadway musical, “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” that used his songs — including “Me Against the World,” ”California Love” and “Keep Ya Head Up” — to tell an original story by Todd Kreidler about two young men dealing with life and tragedy in a Midwestern industrial city. It closed quickly in 2014 after playing just 38 performances.
And she served as executive producer on a film about Tupac Shakur’s life, “All Eyez on Me,” which is set to be released in the fall with Demetrius Shipp Jr., playing her son.
Seven years ago, she donated a collection of her son’s writings, including rough drafts of lyrics and poems and a photocopy of his contract with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, to the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Atlanta University Center.
“We need to read history from the source,” she said. “It gives people the opportunity to judge him objectively. What we want to do is educate.”