As the Christmas season arrived in 1964, the soulful pop crooner Sam Cooke was at the crest of his career.
Cooke, 33, had enjoyed a remarkable run of hit songs, beginning in 1957 with "You Send Me" and continuing with "Wonderful World," "Chain Gang," "Cupid," "Bring It on Home" and "Another Saturday Night," among many others.
He had sold 10 million records as a true crossover artist. His songs, with broad appeal to all races, rated high on both the pop and R&B charts. He had begun to dabble in acting, and talent agents saw limitless potential—film roles, a la Sammy Davis Jr., or a variety show, like Nat King Cole.
Born to humble roots in the Mississippi Delta, he had accumulated a personal fortune. He drove a $15,000 Ferrari convertible and lived with his lovely wife, Barbara, in a Hollywood mansion. A clever businessman, he seemed destined for even greater fame and unspeakable wealth.
But Cooke had a flaw of Biblical proportion: his unbridled libido.
He was a skirt-chaser and serial philanderer, a problem that shadowed his entire life since adolescence. At age 22, as he was blossoming as a star gospel singer, Cooke juggled three pregnant girlfriends—two in Chicago, one in Cleveland.
Cupid's well-worn arrow pricked Cooke yet again on December 10, 1964.…