Is Chris Brown's Career Over?

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Chris Brown, Ike Turner, and Rick James
WRITTEN BY
David Marchese

We don't know all the details, but unless a lot of people are very wrong about a lot of things, R&B star Chris Brown physically assaulted his girlfriend, pop starlet Rihanna, last weekend just before both were set to perform at the Grammys.

Already the 19-year-old singer has been dropped from both a Wrigley's chewing gum and a "Got Milk?" ad campaign. Similarly, 96.5 KISS FM in Cleveland has removed Brown from its rotation.

Is the erstwhile "Next Michael Jackson"'s" career over?

Hard to say. In rap, there's plenty of precedent for violence or other nefarious activity being viewed as a positive. It certainly never hurt Jay-Z or Young Jeezy to brag about their criminal exploits. But domestic violence is different. It's not tough to beat up women. It's pathetic.

The two most infamous pop music perpetrators of acts of violence against women are Ike Turner and Rick James. As famously detailed in her autobiography, I, Tina and the ensuing movie What's Love Got to Do with It?, Tina Turner was subjected to years of physical and psychological abuse by her former husband Ike. The revelation essentially ruined his career. The man who could lay claim to inventing rock'n'roll when his band released "Rocket 88" in 1951 under the name Jackie Brenston and the Rhythm Cats, ended up, as his New York Times obit noted after his death in December 2007, "synonymous with domestic abuse."

But there was a sense during his later years that stance had somewhat softened. Nine months before he died, Turner won his first Grammy since he split with Tina for his blues album Risin' with the Blues. More out of morbid curiosity than anything else, I went to go see Turner play a concert a year or two before he died. It was a deeply weird experience. Here was this man who, even if we're being sympathetic, treated his then-wife terribly. Yet, people wildly cheered for him, as if his old age made the fact he was leering at his Tina-lookalike backup singers funny, rather than disturbing.

1980s funk hitmaker Rick "Super Freak" James experienced a somewhat similar re-evaluation. In 1993, James was found guilty of holding a woman hostage for multiple days and forcing her to perform sex acts. But thanks to an admittedly funny Dave Chappelle parody, James was turned into a harmless walking punchline. Not a great way to spend your final days (James died in 2004), but better a joke than a monster.

If both James and Turner weren't quite forgiven, they also didn't stay pariahs. Do artists who commit acts of sickening violence deserve a second chance, let alone applause?

One way or another, Chris Brown is going to find out.

Watch: Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories: Rick James
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Watch: Ike Turner, "I Want to Take You Higher" at North Sea Jazz festival 2002

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