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Funk legend Sly Stone living in van in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES -- Sly Stone is homeless and living in a camper-van in L.A., the world learned Sunday, thanks to the director of a documentary about Sly and the Family Stone who co-wrote a story for the New York Post.

However, in some boiled-down reports circulating since Sunday's story was published, a depiction of Stone as content and continuing to record music on a laptop in the van he calls home falls short of painting a complete picture of the funk legend's situation.

Stone's financial woes and transient lifestyle were brought to light in 2009, ahead of the release of director Willem Akema's documentary, Coming Back for More.

It's a huge step down for the onetime multimillionaire, who sold his music rights to Michael Jackson for a mere $1 million in 1984 and as recently as 2007 did an interview with the Los Angeles Times at a secluded home in the Napa Valley.

Stone sued former manager Jerry Goldstein for $50 million in early 2010, alleging fraud and the diversion of $20 million to $30 million in royalties. Goldstein countersued in August 2010, alleging the singer had delivered a slanderous rant against him while onstage at the Coachella music festival.

Yet Stone told the Post for the recent article, "I like my small camper. I just do not want to return to a fixed home. I cannot stand being in one place. I must keep moving."

A person who might agree with the "must keep moving" part is one of Stone's unintentional neighbours. The musician has set up camp on a residential street in L.A.'s Crenshaw neighborhood, in one of two vehicles he has left from what had been -- as recently as four years ago, the Post said -- a lavish collection of automobiles to match his once-lavish lifestyle.

"I think a lot of people put up with him because he is an old celebrity," said the Crenshaw neighbour, who declined to go on camera with Inside Edition and reportedly said he was close to calling authorities to deal with the van.

"Me personally, yeah, I'd like him to leave," the neighbour said. "I'd like him to get out of town. I think it's bringing down the property value." To get electricity, Stone runs an extension cord to the home of a "friendly couple," according to IE.

The voice that once delivered songs including Dance to the Music and Everyday People -- and characterized in the Post story as "raspy with age and years of hard living" -- was also captured in a somewhat disturbing on-camera interview, reportedly conducted Monday and posted Tuesday by TMZ.

The 68-year-old, reclining on pillows and sheets in what appears to be a bed, laid out a difficult-to-follow plan to go to a rehab facility he said he'd already picked out, after which he would volunteer to be tested by anyone, at any time.

Stone said on camera that he hadn't had cocaine or beer for "about a week-and-a-half." The musician, who in August released an album featuring mostly cover tunes, pleaded not guilty in June on a drug charge stemming from an April arrest on suspicion of possessing freebase cocaine. Drug problems were nothing new for Sly, who told the Post a story from 1974 about blowing $2,500 -- money meant to buy Christmas gifts for his son -- on drugs before he got to the store.

Also nothing new: Stone being hard to follow. The Los Angeles Times' Geoff Boucher described a 2008 conversation with him as similar to "carrying on a conversation with Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade." Stone did a chunk of the interview "with his hands on a keyboard and speaking into a vocoder synthesizer that turned his words into trippy music."

Though Sly and the Family Stone called it quits in 1975, three of the group's original members and a few new faces are currently on a world tour as the Family Stone.

"With or without Sly, his music is well received," original member Cynthia Robinson said in a recent interview with the U.K.'s Soul Culture. "We try to stick to the original music and writings as close as possible."

The Post described Stone as "dishevelled, paranoid" and convinced hit men and the FBI had their eyes on him. Though Stone wouldn't let a reporter inside his camper, he was willing to pose for the Post's cameras -- in front of his Studebaker, wearing a silver helmet and a holding a Taser.

Stone had a simple answer when asked by Inside Edition on Monday where things went wrong: "I should have just stayed playing music," he said.

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 29, 2011 D5

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