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Screamin' Jay Hawkins Remembered
By LARRY McSHANE
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) APRIL 26, 2000 — His biographer says Screamin' Jay Hawkins spent his life looking for romance.

Screamin' Jay had more success than most.

The voice behind the seminal '50s rock howler "I Put a Spell on You'' claimed to have fathered 57 children before dying Feb. 12 at 70. That's just an estimate; Hawkins acknowledged there could be a few more wandering about.

"He was very active in the ladies' department,'' said his biographer Maral Nigolian, as understated as Hawkins was oversexed. "He was a handsome, vibrant musician, a very charismatic persona.''

That charisma has prompted a Web site aimed at tracking down his prodigious progeny — an effort that has drawn nearly 70 responses from around the United States since it went online March 1.

Hawkins lost touch with his children — those he knew about — after moving to Paris in 1993.

How impressive is Hawkins' total? Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, rock icon of the last four decades, acknowledged siring just seven children.

At www.jayskids.com, the message is succinct: "If you believe you may have had a child by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, or if you believe you are a child of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, please click here.''

That sound you hear is hundreds upon hundreds of mouse clicks. On its busiest day, the site racked up 12,000 hits.

According to Nigolian, at least eight of the respondents seem legitimate heirs, based on information that Hawkins provided during a series of conversations. The others will require additional investigation; ultimately, DNA testing will determine who is and who isn't an actual Screamin' son or daughter.

During a singing career that spanned nearly 50 years, Hawkins was married six times and enjoyed uncounted liaisons. His widow, who lived with Hawkins in France, was apparently unaware of his previous wives and knew little about his endless heirs.

Hawkins died of multiple organ failure following emergency surgery for an aneurysm. He was buried in Pere-Lachaise in Paris, the same cemetery as Doors frontman Jim Morrison.

The estate is saying nothing about any children until they are actually approved as offspring of the rock 'n' roll Wilt Chamberlain. But in excerpts from some of the e-mails received through the Web site, it's clear that Screamin' Jay got around.

"I know he had relatives in (Washington) D.C., and believe that around the time of my conception he was here,'' offered one possible child.

Wrote another, "My mamma was a waitress in a Detroit diner when she met Hawkins.''

A third, writing from Cleveland, picked up some paternal clues from his mother's musical taste.

"I know that my mother was a HUGE fan of Mr. Hawkins. ... She had met him on many occasions and kept a picture of herself and Jay framed on the wall,'' he wrote. "I just want to trace my blood lines and find out where I am from.''

Hawkins' desire to track down his kids had a simple motivation: guilt.

"That was something he regretted — there was never enough time to spend with his kids,'' Nigolian said. "But he never regretted having them. He was very proud of his kids.''

That's a lot of pride.

Hawkins was always a larger-than-life figure, bursting on the music scene with his unforgettable 1956 single "I Put a Spell on You.'' Afraid that his original version was too timid, Hawkins started drinking until he achieved the right level of inebriation, then redid his vocals in a howl.

The result was pure inspiration.

"Spell'' was covered by Creedence Clearwater Revival, among others. Hawkins enjoyed later success in music and film, opening for the Rolling Stones in 1980 and appearing in the Jim Jarmusch film "Mystery Train.''

Hawkins' stage act was over-the-top, too. He would appear from inside a flaming coffin, a bone through his nose and a cigarette-smoking skull on a stick in his hand. Hawkins called the skull "Henry.''

Appropriately, the Hawkins' estate has become a bone of contention. His attorney, Gary M. Spritz of Beverly Hills, Calif., did not return messages, so it is unclear how much money is involved.

What is clear is that Hawkins' fifth ex-wife is in charge of the estate, which was news to the widow Hawkins.

"There's a bit of a legal drama between the widow and the ex-wife,'' acknowledged Danny Dolan, a spokesman for the estate. "We'll find out when the will is filed for probate in mid-May.''

By then, Nigolian should have a good idea about the search for survivors. But she makes it clear that her search is about closure, not cash.

"We're not trying to make this a gold hunt,'' she says. "That's not what this is all about. We simply want to get to the heart of the true submissions.''

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On the Net:

Screamin' Jay Hawkins Web site: http://www.jayskids.com

 
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