On this date in 1968 rock n’ roll and R&B great Little Willie John died at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla the cause of death was listed as a heart attack.
William Edward John was born in Arkansas in Arkansas one of ten children in 1937. When he was four the family moved to Detroit. Willie would form a gospel group and perform in talent shows until he was signed in 1955 to King Records. He had a handful of big hits on the R&B charts-All Around The World #5 in 1955, 1956 was a big year for Little Willie -Need Your Love Bad #5, Home At Last #6 and his most famous song Fever #1. He would continue to have success into the early 1960’s.
The 5’4″ John was known for his violent temper, he had been in a number of altercations and had a bad drinking problem so it probably wasn’t a shock to those who knew him that trouble came calling.
On October 17, 1964 Little Willie John was arrested for murder in Seattle several hours after one of his shows. The murder charges were later reduced to manslaughter. He was found guilty but was out upon appeal until July 1966 when he began serving his sentence. There have always been conflicting reports on his passing- the officials ruled heart attack but there has been talk he had pneumonia and was locked up in isolation, that he had been beaten up and died from neglect or some believe he just died of a broken heart.
In 1996 Little Willie John was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.