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Tragic Start to America's Fourth Christmas in Iraq; Iranian Officials Arrested in Iraq; Death of a Legend; Associate of Alexander Litvinenko Arrested

Aired December 25, 2006 - 12:00   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, hello, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen. Merry Christmas.
We're live at the CNN world headquarters here in Atlanta

The desperate search for two American climbers missing in remote China. CNN's John Vause traveled with their friends into the rugged mountain towns looking for clues.

And Christmas around the world, from the Vatican to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Very different pictures but one message.

And this...

JAMES BROWN, SINGER (SINGER): I feel good. I knew that I would y'all.

NGUYEN: ... saying goodbye to the "Godfather of Soul," James Brown.

You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Up first, we have a developing story this hour. Severe weather is tracking through Florida and the southeast. Several communities are cleaning up this Christmas after tornadoes blew through, and right now there are some tornado warnings to tell you about.

Karen Maginnis is tracking those storms for us.


NGUYEN: It's a tragic start to America's fourth Christmas in Iraq. A roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier in Baghdad today, one of nine U.S. troops killed since Saturday. The U.S. military says two soldiers died in combat yesterday in the dangerous Al Anbar Province, and six U.S. soldiers were killed in a string of attacks Saturday in and near Baghdad in Diyala Province. The deaths bringing the U.S. death toll in Iraq to 2,971.

And our Ryan Chilcote is in Yusufiya, which is inside the Sunni Triangle.

Ryan, talk to us about how troops are spending this very dangerous Christmas there in Iraq.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Betty, the U.S. Army's 431 Infantry is responsible for a part of Iraq just south of Baghdad infamously known as the Triangle of Death. That makes for a very subdued Christmas.


CHILCOTE (voice over): In Iraq's Triangle of Death there is no such thing as holidays. The 3rd Platoon is on the hunt for insurgents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the most part, it's just another day. And it's too bad, but we know what we're doing and we know why we do it.

CHILCOTE: Patrolling in the heart of a Sunni stronghold, Christmas feels as far away as they are from home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No snow, no winter wonderland, nothing like that.

CHILCOTE: In the four months they've been in Iraq, the platoon has seen five roadside bombs go off. They've been shot at 10 times.

Today is their first day policing this neighborhood. The only contact they're making is with kids. They've learned to take pleasure in small things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not as bad as where we're coming from. It's a little better. So kind of nice. You know? Christmas gift right here, come to a better place.

CHILCOTE: The standard Christmas wish?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully get more than four hours' sleep. That will be a good Christmas present to me.

CHILCOTE: Night falls on Christmas Eve, but the mortar team is keeping everyone up. In the platoon's tent, the light comes and goes. But it becomes apparent there is something different about today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of my packages actually got blown up.

CHILCOTE: Each one of these men has a story to tell of sacrifice. This lieutenant was shot by a sniper but has been hiding it from his family so they wouldn't worry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "P.S., you are my hero."

CHILCOTE: The sergeant got called back into the service for his third tour since 9/11, two weeks after he got married.

They are on the receiving end of presents and letters from strangers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes we feel like a lot of people forget about us over here or whatever. But you get stuff like this, it helps out a lot.

CHILCOTE: For the lieutenant, it's a gift from his 13-year-old cousin. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it's a holiday and something happens to make you realize it's a holiday, like getting a present from your little cousin, it means a lot. You know, whether it's late or not. It's Christmas.


CHILCOTE: Betty, the intermittent electricity is not the only power here. There are other issues. Hot water is not a constant. Hot food not a constant.

That's why today was a really big day. Right here in the cafeteria behind me the troops were treated to a very special Christmas meal that consisted of ham, roast beef, turkey, even shrimp. And as far as I could tell it had a very big -- a very big effect on the morale -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Glad to hear that.

Ryan Chilcote joining us from Yusufiya in Iraq.

Well, Iran is threatening unpleasant repercussions and Iraq's president is expressing his unhappiness over the arrest of two Iranian officials in Iraq.

CNN's Arwa Damon joins me now from Baghdad with those details.

What led to these arrests, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, the details surrounding the circumstances are actually unclear. No one here really wants to talk about what happened. It's a very delicate and awkward situation.

What we do know from the president, from the Iraqi president's office, Jalal Talabani's office, a spokesman there telling us that two Iranian security officials were detained by U.S. forces some time last week, but these security officials were actually in Baghdad at the invitation of the Iraqi president himself. He extended that invitation during his most recent visit to Tehran that took place late last month. Now two of his guests are in U.S. custody -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. CNN's Arwa Damon.

Thank you for that.

We're going to get more information on this story because there is confirmation from the White House. It says the two Iranian diplomats were initially questioned but have since been released.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is live at the White House.

And Suzanne, what kind of reaction are you getting from the White House about this?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, according to National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, he does confirm that U.S. military actually captured these four Iranians in these raids in Iraq last week, that two of them were Iranian diplomats. They were questioned and released, but then there are at least two other Iranian officials who are still in U.S. military custody. And that, of course, is pending the outcome of an investigation, an investigation as to whether or not they were involved in some sort of attack against security forces inside Iraq.

Now, the Bush administration has long accused Iran of meddling in Iraq's affairs. Johndroe saying this morning -- and I'm quoting here -- "We suspect this event validates or claims about Iranian meddling, but we want to finish our investigation of the detained Iranians before characterizing their activities. We will be better able to explain what this means about the larger picture after we fish our investigation."

So, Betty, not a lot of details from the White House, but they are confirming those arrests and those Iranian detainees, a very sensitive situation, as you know, for all three governments. We understand that the White House national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, State Department officials, Iraqi officials all involved in trying to figure out what to do next after this investigation in terms of those Iranian detainees -- Betty.

NGUYEN: It is a sensitive issue. But today is Christmas, Suzanne, and I want to ask you how the president is spending today.

MALVEAUX: Well, of course keeping an eye on all the hotspots. But as you know, he's also at Camp David, the retreat. That's where he is with his family celebrating Christmas.

It was just yesterday he put in some phone calls to the American troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, overseas, to tell them just how proud he is of their service. It was also very important over the weekend that he met with Bob Gates, his new defense secretary, to talk about possible changes in strategy in policy regarding Iraq, and that is something that the president will address the nation in the next couple of weeks -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Well, Suzanne, we appreciate you spending some of your Christmas with us.

Thank you.

And still ahead here in the NEWSROOM, a tribute to the "Godfather of Soul." James Brown died this morning in an Atlanta hospital.

And we do have a CNN exclusive on two American climbers still missing in China. John Vause takes us to the remote villages where friends are still searching.

It is the most programmed Christmas song ever. Why Elvis, though, didn't want to record this song -- can you believe it -- and how he tried to botch it.

We're going to give you all the goods on that.

You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


NGUYEN: Well, it's a sad holiday for fans of the "Godfather of Soul." Legendary entertainer James Brown died this Christmas Day at the age of 73 at a hospital here in Atlanta. Brown's manager says he died of congestive heart failure as a result of pneumonia.

We're going to take a look at James Brown's storied career from CNN entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.


SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice over): He was the "Godfather of Soul," "Mr. Dynamite," a performer who lit up the stage with his distinctive voice and endless supply of energy. All James Brown did was change the face of R&B, soul and funk music in the '60s and '70s, leaving behind those signature tunes that continue to influence today's generation of musicians.

Growing up poor in the depression era South, Brown said he shined shoes and danced for spare change. And despite a criminal record dating back to an armed robbery conviction in his teens, Brown managed to become a certified music icon.

He emerged as a standout talent in the R&B group the Famous Flames in the late '50s. And with the hit album Live at the Apollo released in 1963, James Brown shined in the national limelight. A year later, he and the Famous Flame performed together for the last time.

Soon after, Brown recorded two of the songs he would be known for the rest of his career, his hits, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You," in which he coined his catch phrase...


VARGAS: ... topped both the R&B and pop charts in 1965. Brown's style of rhythm and blues with attitude gradually earned its own genre. By the '70s, his music was funk.

He led a new group, the James Brown Review. And the performer was now a bona fide hit machine, with more than 50 top 10 R&B songs under his belt by the mid '70s.

But in the late '70s a new musical craze took over the country, and the 60s hit maker "Soul Brother Number One" struggled to connect with the disco generation. Cameo appearances in hit movies of the '80s like "The Blues Brothers" reintroduced Brown and his quirky performance style to younger audiences.

His "Living in America" became a top 10 hit in 1985 with both the song and singer appearing in "Rocky IV." That success was short-lived.

By 1988, Brown once again found himself tangling with the law. First came allegations of assault on then wife Adrienne Brown. And just a year later, after Brown allegedly threatened people with a handgun, he sent police on an interstate car chase, with police opening fire on Brown's pickup truck. He was sentenced to six years in prison, paroled after two and a half.

Brown had several more brushes with the law through the 1990s, arrested multiple times for drug possession and domestic abuse.

But that didn't change what Brown had done for music. The singer received a lifetime achievement Grammy Award and inductions to both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In 2003, Brown was named a Kennedy Center honoree. He continued to work well into his 70s, touring internationally and performing for special events. James Brown, the self-described hardest working man in show business, lived up to his name.


NGUYEN: The "Godfather of Soul" always an entertaining guest when he appeared on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE." And straight ahead, we have a look back at one of those appearances.

Well, take a look at this video coming in to CNN. New video from Lake City, Florida. This from our affiliate WAWS.

My goodness. What a mess this tornado that hit the area has left behind. You can see one man there at the bottom left-hand corner of your screen trying to walk through all of it. It's just a mangled mess.

I guess that's a lot of steel and iron there. Don't exactly know what kind of an office building or warehouse this was, but they have a lot of work to do, apparently.

We have meteorologist Karen Maginnis in the studio today to talk about actually more warnings going out across Florida.


NGUYEN: In other news to tell you about, basketball is more than just a sport for one group of hearing-impaired kids in New York. It is their chance to show public schools that they can play with the best of them.

And how Christians across the world are celebrating Christmas today.

That's ahead right here on CNN NEWSROOM.


NGUYEN: Well, we do have more severe weather to tell you about out of Florida. Not the way people want to spend Christmas, but a tornado has touched down this morning near Lake City, which is about 45 miles north of Gainesville.

Let's get the latest now from Leslie Coursey of affiliate WAWS, which is live there in Lake City. Let me ask you, Leslie, what kind of damage are you seeing?

LESLIE COURSEY, REPORTER, WAWS: Well, holiday cheer quickly turning into holiday fear here in Lake City after a possible tornado touches down.

I'm here live off I-75, just south of I-10. Take a look at the debris littering the highway right now. It looks like a twister came through, ripped the roof off of a business, and scattered it across a field in to a pasture across the street.

Now, we drove around some nearby neighborhoods looking for damage there. We saw some downed power lines and some Christmas decorations that had been knocked over, but otherwise no structural damage to report. Also right now no reports of any injuries.

Emergency workers here in Columbia County are planning a press conference at 1:00 p.m., and we should know more by then.

For now, I'm live in Lake City, Leslie Coursey.

Betty, back to you.

NGUYEN: Leslie, let me ask you this. We were just looking at some video just minutes ago, actually seconds ago, of a lot of structural damage at one particular area. Here it is back up on the screen for you. We don't know what this place is, if it's a warehouse or a business. But do you know how much warning people had before these tornadoes touched down?

COURSEY: As far as I know, there were tornado issues -- tornado watches issued around 5:30 this morning. Again, no injuries to report. I think this is a cabinet company right now that we're looking at. Nobody was inside at the time.

NGUYEN: Well, that's good to hear. All right. Thank you for that.

Leslie Coursey of affiliate WAWS.

And we're, of course, going to follow this and have much more from meteorologist Karen Maginnis in the next half hour.

But in the meantime, the pomp and pageantry of Christmas on display around the world. From the United States to Bethlehem to the Vatican, Christians are celebrating one of their holiest days.

We have a closer look now at Christmas around the world from CNN's Miles O'Brien.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): From the Vatican, the pope's message of peace beamed round the world. Benedict XVI celebrating midnight mass in the splendor of St. Peter's Basilica, issuing an appeal to help the children. POPE BENEDICT XVI (through translator): The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children, particularly those who suffer and are abused in the world.

O'BRIEN: But in Bethlehem itself, the biblical birthplace of Jesus, hard times temper the celebration. Five thousand turned out in Manger Square, 2,000 packed the Church of the Nativity, including Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The city itself on its knees from sanctions imposed against the Hamas-led government.

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower lit up like a Christmas tree, literally.

Brazil, the normally festive atmosphere taking on a more reverent tone as thousands turned out for the traditional holiday carnival.

And perhaps the oddest picture of them all from China, a-seven-year old Christmas tradition in the streets of Chongqing. A hundred thousand filling the streets carrying inflatable hammers and bats, apparently inspired by the New Year's Eve scene in Times Square.

And of course in Australia, where it's now summer, it has to be Christmas on the beach.

Here in the states, another tradition, last-minute shopping. They were jamming the aisles at Macy's in New York City well into the Christmas Eve night.

Los Angeles malls packed to capacity with last-minute bargain hunters and plain old procrastinators, Santa pulling overtime.

SANTA CLAUS: What would you like for Christmas, honey? What's that, honey?


CLAUS: A Barbie.

O'BRIEN: Talk about a world away, Christmas in Kabul. A handful of Christians gathering there to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

And in Iraq, Christians braved devastating violence in the streets to celebrate a day of peace.


NGUYEN: I want to show you the sights and sounds of Christmas. There they are, and one of New York's most famous churches. This was the scene as parishioners gathered for midnight mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The mass is one of the highlights of Christmas celebrations in New York.

In other news, two Iranian diplomats who were guests of Iraqi president Talabani were detained by U.S. forces. How Iran and Iraq are reacting to that.

Plus, an associate of a poison former KGB agent arrested. Hear the latest twist in an international mystery.


NGUYEN: Well, a CNN exclusive. John Vause on the trail of two missing American climbers in China. Are they finally able to narrow this search? This and more, right here in the NEWSROOM.

Much of the southern United States just sloshing through this Christmas day, and parts of the region are facing the threat of this, severe weather and the damage left behind. Just north of Gainesville, Florida, reports of some damage after a tornado touched down there. Let's get more on this holiday weather, not very festive, from meteorologist Karen Maginnas. My goodness, and it hasn't stopped yet. Has It Karen? A lot to tell us about.


NGUYEN: An escalating war in Somalia to tell you about. Ethiopia sent its Russian-made warplanes to bomb the airport in Mogadishu. That airport is now held by a rebel Islamic group, which has been wrestling control of the country away from the internationally recognized government. Ethiopian officials tell CNN the bombing was intended to stop illegal flights that may be carrying arms to the Islamic forces. Ethiopia and Washington believe the Islamic group may be affiliated with al Qaeda.

Fidel Castro's health may be getting worse. A leading Spanish surgeon has been called to Cuba to check in on the ailing dictator. Spanish authorities indicate the doctor is there to decide if he needs more surgery. Castro hasn't been seen in public since his intestinal surgery this past Summer.

And we do have another twist in the Alexander Litvinenko poisoning mystery, the arrest of a friend and confidant of Litvinenko's, but it looks like the arrest is unrelated to the death of the former Russian spy. CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh has the story.


ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Italian police say they arrested Mario Scaramella in Naples, Italy on Sunday. The charges relate to allegations of arm trafficking and violating secrets from an investigative file. Scaramella met with former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko at this London sushi bar on November 1st, one of many people Litvinenko met with that day.

British and Russian investigators have yet to determine where Litvinenko was poisoned with the Polonium 210 radiation that killed him on November 23rd. From his death bed Litvinenko blamed the Russian President Vladimir Putin for poisoning him. The Kremlin denies the accusation. Scaramella says he told Litvinenko at their meeting that he discovered both of their names were on a hit list. Scaramella, who was hospitalized and tested for radiation poisoning too, told CNN's Matthew Chance he had nothing to do with Litvinenko's death.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did you poison Alexander Litvinenko?

MARIO SCARAMELLA, ITALIAN SECURITY CONSULTANT: No, not me, of course. I was a friend.

VAN MARSH: Scaramella recently signed on as a consultant for an Italian commission investigating KGB ties to Italian politics during Soviet times. The former head of the commission says Scaramella's Sunday's arrest appears to be unrelated to the Litvinenko murder mystery. Scaramella's father told local reporter, police we're taking his son from Naples to Rome.

Alphonso Van Marsh, CNN, London.


NGUYEN: Narrowing the search for two American mountain climbers still missing in China. Searcher are piecing together what happened, but now at least they know where to start. That's key. CNN's John Vause fills us in on the story. It's one you will only see right here on CNN.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ted Callahan is leading what seems an almost hopeless expedition. He and 13 other experienced mountain climbers have fanned out across hundreds of square miles of rugged southwest China, looking for two friends, Americans Christine Boskoff (ph) and Charlie Fowler (ph).

TED CALLAHAN, SEARCH LEADER: We still have hope, but it's diminishing.

VAUSE: With the help of dozens of Chinese volunteers, some knocking door-to-door in villages, Callahan slowly pieced together where Christine and Charlie may have travelled.

CALLAHAN: We had people west of here, east of here and south of here. And they really tracked down every lead.

VAUSE: Everything has led the search teams here, to the Genyan (ph) area. It's a half day drive east of a small frontier town called Ditan (ph), where there was a last confirmed sighting of the two missing climbers. This past weekend came a possible breakthrough.

(on camera): (INAUDIBLE) now claim to have found luggage belonging to both Christine and Charlie. It was allegedly being held by a local man who works as a driver for tourists. Searchers are now assuming the bags were left unclaimed, because the missing pair never made it back from the mountains.

(voice-over): The focus for rescuers is now on Yenda, a village where the driver claims to have dropped then climbers of November 10th, to be collected two week later, but they never returned. No one know's how long they've been in trouble, at least at month, maybe more. Local mountain guide Pen Xiao Long says it would be almost impossible for anyone to survive. There is a lot of reason for concern, he told me, because the time has been so long.

Still, this against the odds search will continue for the next few days, at least, in one of the most remote and isolated places on earth.

John Vause, CNN, Sichuan Province, China.


NGUYEN: Well let's take you to Egypt now on this Christmas day. The health ministry is reporting two bird flu deaths in the past two days. On Sunday a 30-year-old woman died just hours after tests confirmed that she had the H5N1 virus. Two others members of her extended family also tested positive according to Reuters News Agency. One of them, a 15-year-old girl, died today. The family reportedly raised ducks that had recently fallen ill and were slaughtered.

Well he was dubbed the hardest working man in show business. James Brown is gone, but his memory and his music live on. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.


PFC ANDRE WHITEHEAD, U.S. ARMY: Hi, this is PFC Andre Whitehead. I want to wish everyone at home happy holidays. I miss you guys. I miss my dad, Chris, Mr. Bean, the Wizbies, the Baumans, Julie, Jason, all you guys. I'll see you when I get home in, like, a few months. And that's it. See you, guys.


NGUYEN: It's Christmas day, but there won't be any celebrations for the families of nine U.S. troops killed in Iraq. One soldier died today in a roadside bomb blast. Two were killed in combat yesterday in the dangerous al Anbar province, and six U.S. soldiers died in a string of attacks Saturday, in and near Baghdad, and in Diala province. The deaths bring the U.S. death toll in Iraq, this month, to 2,983 -- I'm sorry. That's the total. The deaths just this month alone is 83.

But, let's turn to another, somewhat related, story, at least dealing with Iraq. Iran, the government there defiant in the face of sanctions imposed by the U.N. and now toss in the detention of four Iranians by U.S. forces in Iraq. We're going to get to CNN's Aneesh Raman, who is going to sort it all out for us. Again, these are Iranians in Iraq, who were detained inside Iraq. The question is, why were they detained? What do you know, Aneesh?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Betty. Good afternoon. These Iranian diplomat were in Iraq at the invitation, we understand, of Iraq's president, Jallal Talibani. He issues that invitation when he visited Tehran recently. Iran's government, a foreign ministry spokesman, says their detention is not justified. The Swiss ambassador, on the ground in Tehran, who represents U.S. interests, since the U.S. and Iran have no diplomatic ties, was called in to the foreign ministry and a formal complaint, protest was issued through the Swiss ambassador to the United States.

The Iranian foreign ministries spokesman also said the U.S. would essentially regret this decision. We're waiting to hear from the U.S. military exactly why these men were detained. The U.S. military has said for a long time now, that Iran is actively is funding and arming groups in Iraq. They are suggesting there might be evidence among these diplomats, but Iran remaining very defiant in this, and this loops in to the larger issue of nuclear defiance. Iran thinks the nuclear pressure it is facing is backed by the U.S. and now, despite that U.N. resolution, Iran isn't backing down. In fact it's speeding up its nuclear program.


RAMAN (voice-over): Despite U.N. sanctions, in Iran the defiance continues and the rhetoric is rising. In his first reaction, hard- line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned the U.N. would soon regret its decision, saying, quote, I am sorry for you, who lost the opportunity for friendship with the nation of Iran. You yourself know that you cannot harm this nation. And from the Foreign Ministry, a charge the sanctions were illegal.

MOHAMMAD-ALI HOSSEINI, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY (voice-over): Because we don't believe that this resolution has undergone the right legal path, we're not bound to implement it, and we will continue our peaceful nuclear activities.

RAMAN: But perhaps the most significant development came from parliament, which is now debating whether Iran should suspend its relationship with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. That means Iran could kick out inspectors that are here, and pursue its nuclear ambitions in secret, a decision that would significantly ratchet up tensions, amid fears Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, something the Islamic republic consistently denies.

So why haven't the sanctions worked so far? In part because they cut off technical aid for Iran's nuclear program, Aid Iran might not need as it moves closer to nuclear self-sufficiency. And Iranians at every level believe the need to create nuclear energy outweighs the impact of these sanctions.

Since the Islamic revolution, says Hassan, we have always been sanctioned. Such sanctions have never had an impact on our day-to-day living.

Next year will prove make or break. Either the U.N. will figure out a way to stop Iran's program, or the world may have to simply accept a nuclear Iran.


RAMAN: And there's one thing Tehran surely took note of, the sanctions came, Betty, with a unanimous vote, a sign the international community is not only increasingly unified, but increasingly unlikely to stand by as Iran remains defiant. Betty?

NGUYEN: CNN's Aneesh Raman, we appreciate you for bringing us up to speed on that.

Also we want to bring you up to speed on what's going on weather wise on this Christmas day. In Columbia County, Florida, reports of some damage after a tornado touched down there. Let's get more now from meteorologist Karen Maginnis, and, Karen, look at the damage right here, quite a storm. Do you have idea how big this tornado was?


NGUYEN: All right, thank you for that Karen.

Well, the godfather of soul, soul music's pioneer James Brown, dead today at the age of 73. His manager says Brown died of congestive heart failure this morning, while being treated for pneumonia at a hospital here in Atlanta. Brown's career one of the most legendary in show business. Here's what the godfather of soul had to say during one of his several interview appearances on CNN's "LARRY KING."


JAMES BROWN, SINGER: My wife, she was psyched, not a sound. I knew a little about television. Thank god I know most, 99 percent of things about the music, because I was able to change the music from two and four to one and three. And today's all James Brown beat, (INAUDIBLE) --

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Everybody copied you.

BROWN: (INAUDIBLE) -- people, like, are multi-talented, like players and the managers don't get along, players and teammates don't get along, sisters and brothers don't get along. But I love my wife and stayed with her, my code and stayed with my vows until death do you part, and hopefully -- I just wish it could have went the other way. But I can't control that. God's in control and we just take the hand that's dealt to us.

KING: Has it been tough to perform?

BROWN: Well, when I perform I sweat out the sorrow and the worry. I stay with it, because that's the only thing I know. I'm like you, Larry. I remember about 22, about 20 years ago, I believe, about 16 years, 17 years ago, I called a man by the name of Larry King, in Arlington, Virginia, and he accepted might phone call, he was paying my thing. He was talking about Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, and he said he was going to have me as a guest. I went up there, stayed up late at night to be with you because --

KING: All night.

BROWN: I felt -- it was a long thing, but I felt a sense of -- of family. Because you know Henry Stone. You know all the people that I know.

KING: Sure do. BROWN: And I talked to Henry today, and I just feel very close to you. I'm very proud of what you've done. I have watched you throughout the world wherever I go. I carry Larry King not only in my heart, but in my eyes and ears and my brain, and he makes me feel at home. I love you.

KING: James, when you hear so many performers doing what you did, do you regard it as a compliment?

BROWN: You've got to say that again.

KING: When you hear so many performers, who were obviously affected by you, some, many, who do you. They're literally doing James Brown, are you complimented?

BROWN: I'm complimented. I think the best form of flattery is being copied. But I love it because it's a way of life. Any time a young kid, who can't make a living, can stand up and rap, and play my music in the background, and make a living and take care of his family, I think I'm making a contribution, and I want to be an attribute and not a liability.



NGUYEN: Well, red, white and green, the colors of Christmas. It took the king of rock 'n' roll to make it blue. What you may not know is his holiday classic almost wasn't even released. Mark Stewart, from our affiliate WSMV, has the story.


MARK STEWART, WSMV (voice-over): It's the most programmed Christmas song on radio. It even surpasses Bing Crosby's "White Christmas."

No doubt you'll hear it dozens of times during the holidays. What most people don't realize, Elvis did not want to record "Blue Christmas." Gordon Stoker and the Jordanaires provided the backup vocals for Elvis at that Los Angeles recording session, 50 years ago. The song was part of Elvis' Christmas album.

GORDON STOKER, JORDANAIRES: We had a list of songs. We go down to "I'll Have a Blue Christmas Without You," and Elvis said, Mr. Sholes -- he was that A&R man -- I don't want to do this song, because Ernest Tubb (ph) has a big record on deck on this song, and Elvis had the most respect in the word for country artists. And he said, I'm not going to do this song and they said, well, we've made a deal on the publisher with this song, and you've got to do it.

STEWART: So Elvis decided to do his best to sabotage the recording, so his label RCA wouldn't release it.

STOKER: And Elvis would step up to the mic and say, I'll have a blue Christmas without you. And they'd stop the record. They'd stop and Mr. Sholes, in the control room, would punch a button and say, Elvis you can't say Christmas that way. People will think you're making fun of the way they talk. OK, turn it on. I'll do it. And he would do another one, I'll have a blue Christmas without you. Do it again. What I'm trying to say it, he did it several times that way, and the recording that you are hearing is the only time that he said Christmas the way it should have been said.

STEWART: Millie Kirkham was a female backup singer for "Blue Christmas." She created that unusual and haunting background vocal, most people remember about the song.

MILLIE KIRKHAM, BACKUP SINGER: They said have fun, do something silly and it was silly. And so, Elvis turn around, looked at me and grinned, and started giving me the signals to keep going, so I just did it all the way through the whole song. And when we got through, we all laughed and said, well, that's one song that the record company will never release.

STOKER: That's right.

KIRKHAM: But they did.

STEWART: Two generations later, a song many thought would not be released has become a Christmas tradition, all because the king of Rock 'N' Roll could not say no.

STOKER: He was just such a kind, sweet person. He wouldn't say, no, I'm not going to do it, which is what he should have said, but he didn't. You know, that's the way he was.

STEWART: And the rest is musical history.


NGUYEN: Who knew? What a story. Well, I'm Betty Nguyen, at the CN Center in Atlanta. Up next, one of "LARRY KING LIVE's" classics here on CNN, an interview with actress Elizabeth Taylor. Have a merry Christmas everybody.



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