Sam Cooke died in December 1964 at the age of 33. He had been shot three times by the manager of a Motel. He died without a Will.
There are conflicting theories about Sam’s death. The official inquest returned a finding of Justifiable homicide following evidence that Sam had broken into a hotel manager Bertha Franklin’s office-apartment, in a rage, trying to locate a woman who had accompanied him to the hotel but had fled with most of his clothes whilst he was in the bathroom. After a brief struggle Bertha, fearing for her life, fired her gun at Sam in self-defence. After she shot him he charged her; she beat him over the head with a broomstick before he fell to the floor and died.
Those who viewed Sam’s body before his funeral claimed he had been severely beaten.
Sam was signed to RCA Victor. At that time in the United States the few black artists signed to major labels recorded Pop orientated music for a largely white audience. In addition to his recording for RCA Sam was one of the first major black performers to own his own record label, (SAR/Derby), music publishing company (Kags Music), and management firm. He would produce more raw rhythm & blues songs on these labels that were not considered suitable by RCA for their audience. In 2015 his estate was worth $100 million.
In 1963 Sam entered into a personal management deal with Allen Klein that included the management of Kags Music and SAR Records.
Klein established a dummy corporation named after Sam’s daughter, Tracey Ltd. (with Sam as president) to produce and own Sam’s recordings. Klein then negotiated a three-year deal (with a two year option) with RCA where they would pay for Sam’s recording sessions in return for exclusive distribution rights and 6 percent of Sam’s royalties. In order to minimise tax Klein arranged for Sam to receive preferred stock in Tracey in lieu of an initial cash advance of $100,000; and cash advances of $100,000 for the next two years, followed by an additional $75,000 for each of the two option years. Following Sam’s death, this business arrangement was devastating to his extended family. His widow and former business associates battled in court for years over his estate and royalty rights.
Bertha Franklin the Hotel Manager was forced to quit her job due to the harassment she received from Sam’s fans and filed an unsuccessful $200,000 lawsuit against Sam Cooke’s estate.
Some people speculated that Allen Klein might have had a role in his death. Klein’s company ABKCO music & records owns and administers the rights to Sam’s music. There was speculation that Sam was dissatisfied with Klein’s representation and was in the early stages of firing him when he died. There is speculation that Sam as one of the brightest symbols of the civil rights movement was silenced in a plot hatched by white supremacists. However without a Will he was unable to direct his estate in the way that he wished.