Day One, Saturday, September 7: Mike Tyson is a thug's
champion. Mighty but vulnerable, streetwise but naive, standing
in a precarious place despite his wealth. The place is special in
the hearts of hustlers. A Tyson fight is an unofficial gangsta
party. It's where the ghetto elite meet: rich niggas with nothing
to lose, indulging their contradictions.
The anticipation builds as colorfully dressed folks file into
the MGM Grand on this hot Las Vegas evening. Inside, playas like
Stacey Augmon, New Edition, Gary Payton, Too Short, and Run-DMC
settle in. Among the 'bangers, ballers, dealers, and denizens in
the VIP section are two of America's most infamous: Marion
"Suge" Knight, the Death Row Records CEO who's made no
secret of his affiliation with the Bloods, and his
quintuple-platinum superstar, Tupac Shakur.
The bell dings, and Mike Tyson makes quick work of a hapless
Bruce Seldon. Too quick for the crowd's taste. The mood after the
109-second fight is ugly, but Tupac is gleeful, jumping about
like a little boy. "Did you see Tyson do it to 'im? Tyson
did it to 'im! Did y'all see that?" says 'Pac, baiting a
camera crew in the MGM lobby. He becomes more and more animated
talking about Mike. "Did y'all see that? Fifty punches! I
counted, 50 punches! I knew he was gon' take him out. We bad like
that. Come out of prison and now we running shit." Suge,
smiling at 'Pac's antics, grabs his arm and coaxes him away from
Tupac returns to his room at the nearby Luxor, a massive black
pyramid with a brightly illuminated top. According to a close
friend, he's slightly upset because he couldn't find his road
dawgs, the Outlaws, who were supposed to be at the fight with
him. "He complained of getting into a scrap with some
Back outside the MGM, an amateur videographer catches 'Pac and
Suge waiting for their car, surrounded by a bevy of women. Tupac
has changed from the brushed silk shirt he wore to the fight to a
black basketball jersey that better exposes his tattooed biceps
and the diamond-and-ruby-encrusted medallion hanging from his
neck. On it is an angel in waiting, wings outspread, gun in hand.
Well it's time to ride / I'm ready to die right here
tonight / And motherfuck they life / That's what they
screamin' as they drill me / But I'm hard to kill, so open
-2Pac, "Ambitionz az a Ridah"
Eleven-fifteen p.m. finds Suge and 'Pac turning off Las Vegas
Boulevard onto Flamingo, heading east toward Suge's Club 662 in a
black BMW 750, presumably to get their party on. Several women in
an Oldsmobile flash 'Pac and Suge. Suge's at the wheel and 'Pac's
next to him, his window down. He's all smiles, yelling to his
fans, inviting them to join the party. Leading a convoy estimated
at anywhere between six and 15 cars, the BMW stops at a red light
in front of the Maxim Hotel-just beyond the Strip, where the neon
and hubbub end and the darkness of a desert town begins.
A late-model white Cadillac with California plates pulls up to
the right of the BMW. One of its four passengers takes out a
high-caliber firearm. "I heard these sounds and thought it
was someone shooting in the air," says an eyewitness who was
idling three cars back, "but then I see sparks fly from the
gun." Between 10 and 15 shots ring out. Lead pierces metal,
glass, flesh. Two bullets tear through Tupac's chest, one through
a hand, one in a leg. Bullet fragments graze the top of Suge's
head. The Cadillac peels off to the right, heading south down
Koval Street. With two tires blown out and the windshield shot
through, Suge floors his Beemer, screeching into a wild U-turn
against oncoming traffic as vehicles scatter.
Two policemen at the Maxim on an unrelated call hear the shots
and see the commotion. They immediately give chase. According to
a friend of Suge's, who was told the details later, Tupac is now
bleeding through his jersey. "Gotta keep your eyes
open," 'Pac says to himself. Suge stops the car and the
police arrive. Tupac is stretched out in the back of the BMW
bleeding profusely. Ambulance lights flash. "There was blood
everywhere," says one witness.
"Get down!" yells a policeman, pointing a shotgun at
"I gotta get my boy to the hospital," Suge says.
"Shut up. Get down!" Suge bends his knees to the
Across town, a white Cadillac slips quietly away into the
night. "I'm dying, I'm dying," says Tupac as he's being
brought into University Medical Center's intensive care unit.
He's lost a lot of blood. He undergoes the first of two
complicated operations. Afterwards, Tupac's mother, aunt, and
friends-including Mike Tyson, Jasmine Guy, and Jesse Jackson-rush
to his side.
Day Two: Within hours the shots have been heard 'round
the world. Two years after the last attempt on his life, hip
hop's Lazarus has caught bullets once again and no one knows what
to think. Will he die? Will he return from this ordeal larger,
more invincible? It's difficult to imagine such a kinetic and
volatile figure lying immobilized. This, after all, is the same
man who got into a gun battle with cops on an Atlanta street and
bopped out of the courtroom unscathed. The same man who survived
five bullet wounds in a 1994 Times Square ambush. The same man
who, though convicted of sexual abuse, left a New York jail
richer and more popular than when he went in. " 'Pac will be
all right," says a family member. "He'll pull
Predictably, the media jumps on the gangsta image, the court
cases, the prison terms, and the thuggish lyrics Bob Dole
denounced. But his friends recount other stories. "I've
always known him to be gracious, humane," says hip hop mogul
Russell Simmons. "All this gangsta stuff, I've never seen
it. I remember him dancing with this woman in a wheelchair for
four hours when everybody else was drinking and partying. That's
how I knew the man. He's a total sophisticate: intelligent,
"He looks like a sleeping black angel," says a close
friend, after visiting Tupac in the hospital. "I talked to
him, touched him. I told him to go to his light."
The members of Suge's Death Row entourage are
questioned by police, but provide little information. Sergeant
Kevin Manning of the Las Vegas Police Department says, "They
were not quite candid," about the circumstances surrounding
Day Three: Fearing gang-related violence, hospital
authorities step up security. Between UMC security, LVPD, and
Death Row bodyguards, the trauma unit is all badges, brawn, and
walkie-talkies. Outside, a local Channel 3 news van backfires
twice and everybody in earshot drops to the ground. At about 8
p.m. police and Tupac's crew get into a shouting match that
results in people getting handcuffed and detained by police.
LVPD's Gang Sergeant Cindi West calls it "a
Rumors abound. Depending on who you ask, Tupac is either on
his way to the morgue or in intensive care puffing on a
cigarette. In truth, he's alive but experiencing respiratory
trouble. Surgeons decide to go in a second time and remove 'Pac's
shattered right lung. "You can live with one lung,"
says Dr. Jonathan Weissler, chief of pulmonary and critical care
medicine at Southwestern Medical in Dallas. "And after a
while you can live quite well with it."
After hours of unconsciousness, Tupac momentarily opens his
eyes. Hearts are lifted.
Day Four: The entire hip hop world is turned on its
ear. Overzealous reporters suggest that the shooting is tied to
the East Coast- West Coast rivalry. A few speculate that it may
be gang-related. Among the names being thrown about are the Notor
ious B.I.G. and Mobb Deep (who are both entangled in protracted
lyric feuds with Tupac), Las Vegas Crips, Los Angeles Crips, even
Death Row employees. At least one Bad Boy Entertainment staffer
receives death threats, and the New York-based label cancels a
scheduled appearance of some of their artists.
"That this is gang-related is still pure
speculation," says Sergeant Manning. "We have to run by
facts." The entire Death Row organization, according to one
employee, has been put under a gag order by higher-ups. LVPD,
frustrated by the lack of coopera tion from Tupac's camp,
complain to the press. "The problem is a lack of
forthrightness," says Manning, barely concealing his
disgust. "It amazes me when they have professional
bodyguards who can't even give an accurate description of the
vehicle." Meanwh ile Suge, who was released from the
hospital with minor head wounds, is nowhere to be found.
In the trauma unit there's meditation and prayer. Tupac's
aunt, Yaasmyn Fula, a tall, regal woman, removes her glasses and
wipes her puffy eyes. "I'm just really, really tired,"
she says quietly. Afeni Shakur, 50, a woman of small frame and
formidable grace, looks about the same. The former Black Panther
who 'Pac calls Mama seems to carry the weight of the world upon
her small shoulders. Visiting hours are almost over and she
returns to the hotel for an hour or two of restless rest. 'Pac is
still in cr itical condition.
Family members silently get into a plain blue Chrysler. An
older man wraps his arms around Afeni, and she leans in heavily
as the car drives away.
Day Five: The morning brings news of a murder in Los
Angeles. A Compton bodyguard, who police say is connected with
the Southside Crips, has been shot in his car and pronounced dead
at Martin Luther King Jr. General Hospital at 9:53 a.m. The rum
or is that the homicide was payback for Tupac being shot.
"Someone just drove up alongside and blasted him," says
LAPD homicide detective Mike Pariz. "This is only the
beginning," says a Compton resident. "The gang shit is
about to be on."
Suge makes himself available to the LVPD for questioning.
Investigators review a videotape from the MGM taken the night of
the Tyson fight, which reportedly shows Tupac and others in a
confrontation with an unknown black man dressed in jeans and a
T-sh irt. "This happened at approximately 8:45 p.m.,"
says Sergeant Manning. "Kicking and punching were
involved." Authorities won't reveal whether Tupac or Suge
personally assaulted the man. Once police officers arrived at the
scene they asked if the victim w anted to file a complaint. He
said "Forget it" and walked away. Officers never got a
name. "There is no reason to believe that these incidents
are at all connected," says Manning.
Day Six: Tupac, his eyes closed and his remaining lung
inflamed, ("Ready to Die," cont.) struggles for his
life. He's connected to a respirator, his body convulsing
violently at times. Doctors induce paralysis for fear of 'Pac
hurting himself. D r. John Fildes, chairman of the hospital's
trauma center, gives him a 20 percent chance of survival.
"It's a very fatal injury," he says. "A patient
may die from lack of oxygen or may bleed to death." Despite
newspaper headlines like WOUNDED TUPAC IS UNLIKELY TO LIVE,
family members hold out hope.
Day Seven: "This is Dale Pugh, marketing and
public relations director for the University Medical
Center," says a hospital hotline answering machine.
"This message is being recorded at approximately 5:15 p.m.
on Friday, September 13. Tupac Shaku r has passed away at UMC at
approximately 4:03 p.m. Physicians have listed the cause of death
as respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest."
At the hospital there's a stillness, a surreal calm. The
contradictions of Tupac's many worlds are converging. More than
150 people are gathered out front: dark young girls and their
mothers, lanky young men with combs in their uncombed heads;
others w earing do-rags, professional women, young
Native-American 'bangers and children-dozens and dozens of
children. Detached reporters wait with the teary-eyed. A blond,
blue-eyed cop stands next to a white boy with dollar signs
tattooed on his neck.
Surrounded by family, Afeni dashes out of the trauma unit,
quiet determination etched on her face. "She is an extremely
spiritual person," says a family friend. "I think she
knew. She had given her only son to God long before this
A member of Tupac's crew leaves the trauma room soon after. He
stares down a hospital staffer and screams: "Why the fuck
you let him die, yo?! Why the fuck you let him die?"
Behind him, Yakki, Tupac's cousin, who's been at 'Pac's side
since forever, walks out, red in the face. Death Row artist Danny
Boy comes in tube socks and slippers, tears falling from behind
half-and-half glasses. He bends down on one knee as if in pra
There's a trace of crimson in the clouds. Suddenly three
shining cars appear and Suge Knight steps out of a black Lexus in
a Phoenix Suns T-shirt, the wound up top his head barely
noticeable. His massive figure quiets the crowd. He enters the
trauma ce nter hugging Danny Boy around the neck and talking
quietly with members of Tupac's family. Without his running mate
Tupac, Suge seems more solitary. After a few minutes he turns to
leave, taking pulls on a barely lit cigar and leaving whispers in
his wake .
As the minutes go by, an almost festive atmosphere develops
outside. Cars roll up bumping Tupac songs. Children begin running
beyond their mothers' reach. One little boy in naps and slippers
lies down between two parked cars, glancing up mischievously to
check if anyone sees him.
The press packs it up. The crowd begins to disperse. A black
Humvee circles the hospital, blaring "If I Die
"I'll live eternal / Who shall I fear / Don't shed a tear
for me nigga / I ain't happy here." The resoluteness in
'Pac's voice is cathartic. "I hope they bury me and send me
to my rest / Headlines readin' murdered to death / My last
Such eerily prophetic lines were not unusual
for Tupac, who seemed to be rehearsing his death from early on.
For him, it was valor over violence, destiny over death. But if
his listeners were forewarned, they were still unprepared.
"Now it's real," say s Vibe writer Robert Morales.
"This scene has lost its cherry. All the shit people have
been talking in the past five years, all the dissing and
posturing, has led to this. Hip hop has crossed a line, and it's
gonna be hard to cross back."