Malcolm X's Family Claim New Letter Reveals NYPD, FBI Conspired in His Murder

4:36 PM PT -- The full contents of the letter -- dated Jan. 25, 2011 -- have been posted, and there's a lot more to Ray Wood's story.

He says he worked under the NYPD's BOSSI investigative unit from 1964 to 1971, and that the work he was made to do on their behalf was done under duress and fear inflicted by his superiors. Wood says his job was to infiltrate civil rights orgs throughout NYC, and to find evidence of criminal activity so that the FBI could "discredit and arrest its leaders."

As it relates to Malcolm, Wood claims there was a plot to plant a bomb at the Statue of Liberty days before the killing -- something he claims his own supervisor/handler came up with and executed -- and that Walter Bowe and Khaleel Sultarn Sayyed got arrested in connection to the alleged attempt ... something Wood has been credited with "foiling."

Wood says reining in Bowe and Sayyed was key because the NYPD, he claims, was aware they were integral in handling Malcolm's crowd control security detail. He says as the Statue of Liberty plan was being hatched, he was unaware Malcolm X was the real target in what he describes as an elaborate ruse.

There's also this ... Wood claims that he was ordered to be at the Audubon on Feb. 21, where he says he was ID'd by witnesses while fleeing. He claims Thomas (15X) Johnson was later arrested and wrongfully convicted in connection to Malcolm's killing ... to protect his own cover and the "secrets of the FBI and NYPD."

The FBI hasn't commented on the latest allegations, but the NYPD has insisted it's turned over every relevant piece of evidence in the case file to the D.A.'s office.

Malcolm X's surviving family members are demanding his murder case be reopened after claiming they now have a letter that ropes the NYPD and FBI directly into his death.

The late civil rights leader's three daughters spoke out at a news conference this weekend, asking the Manhattan D.A. to re-open the case and take a hard look at new evidence they claim to have ... which alleges a conspiracy at the highest levels.

It's a letter written by a former NYPD officer, Raymond Wood, who often worked undercover ... and who purportedly confessed on his death bed he had been instructed by his bosses to get some of Malcolm's security guards arrested in the days leading up to his assassination.

The letter reportedly claims Wood was told by his bosses to lure a couple guards into committing crimes just days before Malcolm was killed, which then got them taken into custody ... away from the action at the Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965.

Wood says had they not been arrested, they would've been handling door security. It's no coincidence either, per the letter. Wood explicitly says the FBI and NYPD planned for all this, so the people who fatally shot Malcolm could more easily get inside, armed.

In light of this new alleged evidence, Malcolm's family wants the whole investigation reexamined ... echoed by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who's repping the fam and leading the charge in getting the D.A. to give what he calls "restorative justice."

One note we should mention -- many accounts of the days leading up to Malcolm's murder say he himself had reduced security at speaking engagements, including door checks. While he still had his own personal detail, he wasn't rolling nearly as deep as he had been earlier in the '60s when he was still on good terms with the Nation of Islam.

The letter, as described, doesn't seem to address that -- but in any case, it's alleging bad actors beyond the men who were convicted for the assassination.

Malcolm was gunned down by three men, fatally suffering 21 shots. He was 39.

RIP

Originally Published -- 2:28 PM PT

COVID-19 U.S. Deaths Surpass 500,000

Breaking News

COVID-19 has claimed an astonishing number of American lives -- surpassing half a million Sunday -- more than we lost on the battlefield in three combined wars.

Compare the numbers .... there were 291,000 American deaths in WWII. There were 47,434 American battle deaths during the Vietnam War. There were 33,739 American battle deaths in the Korean War.

Compare those numbers to COVID ... as of this post 502,000 Americans have died, and the numbers keep going up. Despite the vaccines, some doctors and scientists believe there could still be a new, devastating wave of deaths because of highly-transmissible variants.

The good news, of course -- the vaccines are going into arms at a rapid pace .... lately around 1.5 million per day. Still, we are nowhere close to vaccinating enough people to achieve herd immunity. Around 70% of Americans -- possibly even more -- must be vaccinated to achieve that goal.

As you know ... there's a lot of skepticism over the vaccine for various reasons. Some people think it was rushed, and others -- especially African-Americans who endured shocking abuse in the disgraceful Tuskegee experiment -- just don't trust it or the government when it comes to vaccines.

There has been a slew of stories about the vaccines, suggesting they may not be effective as variants arise ... and lots of people resistant to the vaccines seem to be saying, what's the point?

In any case, we've lost more than half a million Americans to COVID.

RIP

The Fat Boys' Prince Markie Dee Needed Heart Procedure Before Death ... According to Manager

Exclusive

Prince Markie Dee went to a hospital the day he died to deal with an apparent cardiovascular issue -- according to his manager -- but doctors weren't able to save him.

Markie's manager and best friend, Louis "Uncle Louie" Gregory, tells TMZ ... hours before he died, Markie went to a hospital where he was told he would need a stent to alleviate a blockage in his heart.

Louie says Markie had gone to the hospital because his hands and feet were swollen, and he figured something was seriously wrong. Turns out he was right. Unfortunately, Louie says Markie died in the hospital before doctors were able to put in the stent.

As we reported ... Markie, one-third of the famous '80s hip-hop group The Fat Boys, died suddenly Thursday at the age of 52.

Although the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner has not released a cause of death -- autopsy results are pending -- Louie says close family friends suspect it was a heart attack.

Louie tells us the final time he spoke to Markie was last Saturday by FaceTime, and he thought something was off -- telling us Markie wasn't up for smoking cigars like they usually did.

Louie tells us Markie didn't mention any health concerns during the call, but instead talked about plans to get back into acting ... with help from LL Cool J, an old friend from the NYC hip-hop scene.

The Fat Boys Prince Markie Dee Dead at 52

Prince Markie Dee, one-third of the famous '80s hip hop group The Fat Boys, has died.

Prince passed away suddenly Thursday, according to SiriusXM’s Rock The Bells channel, where he used to host a radio show. The report did not mention a cause of death.

The rapper helped start The Fat Boys, a pioneering rap group, back in the 1980s in Brooklyn. The group helped bring beatboxing to the mainstream, as they featured the sound on most of their songs -- and paved the way for artists like Biz Markie and Doug E. Fresh.

Even after The Fat Boys broke up ... Prince continued writing and producing for other artists. You'll find his credit on songs by Mariah Carey, Ariana Grande, Drake, Jennifer Lopez, Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child and Frank Ocean.

The Fat Boys had a brief Hollywood career too, as they co-starred in 2 movies ... "Krush Groove" and "Disorderlies."

Prince moved on to a solo career after The Fat Boys, signing with Columbia Records and releasing his debut album "Free" in 1992, featuring his chart-topping single, "Typical Reasons (Swing My Way)."

A career in radio followed, with Prince working as a host for Miami's 103.5 The Beat WMIB before his most recent gig as a host and DJ at Rock The Bells.

His groupmate, Darren "Buff Love" Robinson died in 1995 of a heart attack. Damon "Kool Rock-Ski" Wimbley is now the only surviving member.

Prince was 52.

RIP

Vincent Jackson Death Report NFL Star Likely Died Days Before Cops Found Him

Breaking News

Vincent Jackson likely died on or before Feb. 13 -- two days before he was discovered by law enforcement -- this according to a new death report, obtained by TMZ Sports.

The former NFL star was pronounced dead on Feb. 15 after hotel staff contacted police about an unresponsive male in a room at the Homewood Suites in Brandon, FL.

Cops had been investigating and now say hotel staff saw Jackson in the same room -- in the same slouched position -- as early as Feb. 13 ... but assumed he was sleeping.

But, on Feb. 15, a housekeeper began to realize the sad reality -- Jackson wasn't resting, he was dead -- and someone at the hotel dialed 911.

When cops arrived at the scene, they confirmed Jackson had died.

As for visible injuries, cops say he had a small laceration on his left big toe -- but that's it.

The death report also notes Jackson had a history of alcohol use, but was not a known drug user.

As we previously reported, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced earlier this week that Jackson likely died from issues connected to "chronic alcoholism."

Jackson had been living at the Homewood Suites hotel since January ... and his family had become concerned about him -- even filing a missing person report on Feb. 11.

Cops made contact with him at the hotel on Feb. 12, but determined he was okay. Sadly, he was not okay, and seemingly died hours later.

He was only 38.

George Floyd Courtroom Gets COVID Compliant Weeks Away from Murder Trial

George Floyd's murder trial is set to begin next month -- pandemic be damned -- and the courtroom's setup shows extensive coronavirus precautions are being made.

Here's the first look at the 18th-floor courtroom at the Hennepin County Government Center, where on March 8 ... former Minneapolis PD officer Derek Chauvin will stand trial for Floyd's murder.

SAFELY SPACED
Fox9

The room's been set up for COVID-19 safety, with what looks like socially distanced seating for the jury, plexiglass dividers for the attorneys, judge and those who take the witness stand ... and hand sanitizer everywhere.

As we've reported ... Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for his role in Floyd's death. He's seen in the horrific arrest video with his knee pressed on Floyd's neck for roughly 8 minutes, including nearly 2 minutes after he stopped breathing.

Prosecutors had requested to move the trial back to June because of the COVID-19 vaccines, but the judge denied it ... and it certainly looks like things are gearing up to go down as planned.

LeBron James Honors Nipsey & Kobe W/ Hallway Art 'Wit Me Every Single Day'

Breaking News

LeBron James is making sure Nipsey Hussle and Kobe Bryant live on forever in his household ... he just hung a tribute piece to the 2 fallen legends in his hallway.

The King revealed the artwork late Wednesday night ... saying he has plans to walk by the photo daily to remember the former rapper and ex-NBA superstar.

"Wit me every single day when walking my hallways," James said after posing for pics with the piece in his home. "Continues to live on! #LegendsNeverDie."

The artwork is pretty incredible ... it's a framed piece showing Nipsey and Kobe staring at each other with gold leaf crowns perched atop their heads.

James has spoken at length about what the two guys have meant to him ... and he even got a tattoo tribute for Kobe after the basketball legend passed away.

As for Nipsey, just days after the rapper was murdered in Los Angeles in March 2019, James said, "it's one of the most unfortunate events that's happened in American history."

Perhaps not coincidentally, James also revealed Wednesday that he's now mulling a music career.

In a late-night tweet, James said he does NOT want to rap ... but rather, he's looking to help produce an album in some way.

"My love for music is INSANE!!!" James said. "I think I’m going to do a album. Oh no I won’t be rapping or anything like that. I’m not crazy, I know what I’m great at, but I tell you one thing I do have. So many friends that can. Thinking out loud."

He definitely has the money and the resources ... stay tuned.

Rush Limbaugh Dead at 70

10:27 AM PT -- Trump just paid his respects to Rush on Fox News, where he spoke for more than 20 minutes about the respect and admiration he has for the radio host.

REMEMBERING LIMBAUGH
Fox News

He says he spoke with Rush a few days ago to check in on him, and says he was brave and courageous to the end. Echoing the words of Sean Hannity, Trump describes Limbaugh as "irreplaceable."

Rush Limbaugh -- one of the most listened to radio personalities for more than 30 years -- has died of lung cancer ... TMZ has learned.

The conservative firebrand host and political commentator died Wednesday. Rush first announced he was battling advanced lung cancer about a year ago, but it took a turn for the worse recently ... resulting in him missing some shows and his producers asking for prayers. His wife, Kathryn, announced the news on Rush's radio show Wednesday morning.

THE PASSING OF RUSH
NewsTalk 1290

Limbaugh, who started his radio career in the 1970s, is best known for hosting "The Rush Limbaugh Show" ... which has been in national syndication since 1988 and made him one of the premier voices of the conservative movement for 3 decades.

President Donald Trump awarded Rush the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation's highest civilian honor -- for his achievements in radio. Trump presented the award in an unprecedented move during the 2020 State of the Union address just days after Limbaugh revealed his cancer diagnosis.

Of course, Limbaugh's success in radio did not come without a lot of controversies, as his views on race, LGBTQ+ issues, feminism, sexual consent and climate change -- just to name a few -- have been widely criticized ... making him one of the most polarizing figures in America.

The same was true for Rush when he ventured to television, as evidenced by his very first appearance in 1990 as guest host for "The Pat Sajak Show." As Limbaugh was discussing affirmative action, he got jeered by the audience ... resulting in everyone being escorted out of the studio so he could finish the show solo.

Rush went on to host his own TV show from 1992-96, and during this time he was one of the most vocal critics of President Bill Clinton and influential figures of the "Republican Revolution," in which the party regained control of Congress in 1994.

Years later, in 2003, Rush found himself in the middle of a new type of controversy -- in the sports world -- after joining ESPN as a football commentator. Limbaugh made incendiary comments about Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, claiming he was overrated due to the media being "very desirous that a black quarterback do well." Rush resigned shortly afterward ... but there were plenty more controversies to come.

Rush joined "The Breakfast Club" this past summer to discuss George Floyd's death and the protests that followed, and he delivered more classic Rush takes ... including saying he doesn't believe white privilege exists.

Just months before that, in February 2020, Rush insisted COVID-19 was nothing to worry about, telling his audience ... "I'm dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks." He claimed it was being weaponized to hurt Trump.

Among Limbaugh's other accomplishments in radio include his induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame and the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame ... and his show being named the most listened-to in the U.S. in 2019.

Rush also wrote 7 books ... his first 2 landing on The New York Times Best Seller list.

Limbaugh was married 4 times, the first 3 ending in divorce. He is survived by his current wife, Kathryn Rogers, who he wed in 2010.

Rush was 70.

Originally published -- 9:16 AM PT

Chris Cornell's Widow, Vicky I'm Not Getting Outshined, I'm Getting Screwed!!! Sues Soundgarden Again

Exclusive

5:58 AM PT -- Cornell's attorney, Marty Singer, tells us, "The band’s contention that this dispute is somehow not about the money for them is absurd and hypocritical. Of course this is about money and their greed. They received a third party offer to buy just a portion of their interests for 16 million dollars, and yet subsequently offered to buy out Chris’ interest for a mere $278,000."

He continues, "And then Vicky offered $21 million for their shares, which they turned down – not because they wanted to preserve their life’s work but because they know that they will make even more off of future exploitation of the music that Chris wrote and the legacy that he created (which has lined their pockets for years)."

Chris Cornell's widow claims she's getting absurdly lowballed by Soundgarden as far as her stake in the band ... so she wants a judge to set things straight.

Vicky Cornell is suing the rock band yet again in the wake of Chris' death in 2017 ... this time because she claims they can't reach a deal over a buyout price.

According to the docs, obtained by TMZ, Vicky says the 3 remaining band members offered her just $300k for Chris' share ... an amount she claims is less than what she got for her cut of just the 2018 royalties for Soundgarden's masters.

Vicky also alleges the lowball is obvious because the guys in the band got an offer of $16 MILLION from an outside investor for Soundgarden's masters -- that would mean $4 mill each, for the band members and Vicky.

That offer put a value on the band, of at least that amount, as far as Vicky's concerned ... which is why she's offended by their $300k offer, and says she has no choice but to file the suit asking the judge to value the band's assets.

A rep for Soundgarden tells TMZ ... "As requested by the Estate of Chris Cornell and as required by the laws of the State of Washington, the surviving members of Soundgarden submitted to the Cornell Estate four months ago a buy-out offer of the Estate’s interests in Soundgarden calculated by respected music industry valuation expert Gary Cohen."

The rep continues, "Since then, the band members have continued to try to settle all disputes with the Cornell Estate and in their several attempts to settle, the band members have elected to offer multiple times more than the amount calculated by Cohen."

The rep finishes by saying, "This dispute has never been about money for the band. This is their life's work and their legacy."

As we've reported ... Vicky and Soundgarden have been engaged in a separate legal battle since she sued them in late 2019 over royalties and the rights to 7 unreleased recordings.

John Thompson Fred Hoiberg & NCAA Coaches Honor Legend ... With Towel Tributes

Breaking News

Touching tributes from Fred Hoiberg and about a dozen other NCAA coaches this week ... they all took the sidelines with a commemorative towel around their shoulders to pay homage to the late John Thompson.

Nearly 4 months after the iconic Georgetown coach died at 78 years old ... the National Association of Basketball Coaches initiated the honor -- and so far, it's been awesome.

Hoiberg broke out his towel Tuesday night in Nebraska's game against Maryland, and you can see it featured a photo of Thompson over a black background.

Other star coaches -- like Florida State's Leonard Hamilton and Virginia's Tony Bennett -- also sported the towels this week.

More are expected to join the tribute later as well.

"John Thompson was an icon in our profession, and we wanted to make sure his legacy was celebrated in a prominent way this season," NABC exec Craig Robinson said in a statement.

"Big John not only achieved the highest levels of coaching success during his career, but he also paved the way for more equitable opportunities for countless Black student-athletes and coaches -- me included."

"Our goal is that this collective effort by coaches will bring about important dialogue and help educate those watching on what Big John meant to our game and our society."

Of course, Thompson -- who was the 1st Black head coach to win a major college championship -- famously wore towels around his shoulders when he was on the sidelines coaching.

In fact, Thompson was so well known for the towel ... after he died, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaq all sported one on their shoulders on "Inside The NBA" to pay tribute.

Thompson ultimately finished his coaching career at Georgetown with 596 total wins.

Vincent Jackson Foundation Thanks Fans For Donations ... After NFL Star's Death

Breaking News

Vincent Jackson's foundation is thanking fans for making donations in the NFL star's honor following his death ... saying the support will keep his legacy alive for years to come.

The 38-year-old ex-NFL star was found dead in a Florida hotel room on Monday. Officials have not yet determined the cause of death.

The Jackson In Action 83 Foundation -- which provides support and resources to military families -- released a statement following the tragic death ... saying, "While there is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled, we take solace in knowing that Vincent positively impacted so many lives."

"His legacy will continue through the work of the Jackson in Action 83 Foundation and our support of military children and families."

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

FYI -- Both of Jackson's parents served in the military ... and the 3-time Pro Bowler often invited families involved in the armed forces to games throughout his career.

The statement continued ... "A military child himself, Vincent took great pride in the foundation’s work, and we know he would not only want it to continue but to grow."

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

"We ask that in lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the foundation. Your support will allow for Vincent's commitment to military families to continue in a meaningful way, which truly honors a life that meant so much to so many."

'Ink Master' Star Daniel Silva Vows to Make Amends for Corey La Barrie's Death

Exclusive
I WANT TO MAKE THIS RIGHT
TMZ.com

"Ink Master" star Daniel Silva says he's still struggling to deal with the death of his friend, Corey La Barrie, but wants to do what he can to honor him.

As you know ... Corey was killed last May on his 25th birthday after he and Daniel left a party together. Daniel was driving his McLaren sports car, when he got into the fatal wreck.

Daniel joined "TMZ Live" Tuesday to talk about the painful experience, and what he's doing to try to make up for the tragedy ... including being an advocate for safe driving.

He also says he hopes to one day be able to speak with Corey's family in person to express his contrition, but until then ... he's focused on making amends however possible.

Earlier Tuesday, Daniel shared a lengthy video talking publicly for the first time about Corey's death, and what the loss has meant to him.

Daniel also thanked the La Barrie family for showing him empathy and acknowledging the incident was a tragic accident in a legal letter, which he read.

He ended up pleading no contest to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and was sentenced to 4 years in state prison, but most of the sentence was suspended and he only got 365 days in county jail with 216 days of credit instead. He was released in October.

The La Barrie family filed a wrongful death suit against Daniel last year, and in January ... Daniel's legal team responded by claiming Corey was partly responsible for his own death.

Daniel immediately clarified an insurance company had filed that legal response, and he disavowed its claim that Corey was to blame.

Ahmaud Arbery Mom Plans Vigil to Mark Anniversary ... Foundation Coming Too

Exclusive

Ahmaud Arbery's mother wants to do something special for her son to mark the 1-year anniversary of his death ... so she's organizing a public candlelight vigil.

Wanda Cooper-Jones tells TMZ ... Ahmaud's family will be gathering at his final resting place -- New Springfield Baptist Church in Waynesboro, GA -- on February 23 for the event.

Wanda says they're asking everyone to wear a blue ribbon in a show of solidarity and in remembrance of what happened. She says blue was Ahmaud's favorite color.

As we reported ... the 25-year-old was killed on Feb. 23, 2020 while jogging in Brunswick, GA, but it wasn't until graphic video of the incident surfaced in May that Ahmaud's death grabbed national headlines and ignited a demand for justice.

Nearly 3 months after the killing, Travis and Gregory McMichael were arrested and charged with murder in Ahmaud's killing ... along with alleged accomplice William "Roddy" Bryan.

As the anniversary approaches, Wanda says she's overcome with a sense of dread thinking about how her son died -- and it's a reminder her son is never coming back.

This past weekend, she remembered she and Ahmaud went to a barbershop together on Feb. 13, 2020 -- and, of course, it turned out to be the last time.

We're also told the family is working on launching a foundation in Ahmaud's honor -- something separate from the 2.23 Foundation ... which is not affiliated with the family.

Wanda says before next week's vigil, the family will do brunch together -- along with their attorney Lee Merritt -- to share stories about Ahmaud.

NFL Star Vincent Jackson Found Dead in Hotel Room ... Cops Investigating

Breaking News

Vincent Jackson -- a 3-time Pro Bowl wide receiver -- was found dead in a hotel room in Florida on Monday, officials confirm. He was only 38.

The former San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Bucs star was discovered by a housekeeper inside his room at the Homewood Suites hotel in Brandon, Florida (located in the Tampa area). Cops have released pics from the scene.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says it's investigating -- as there is no apparent cause of death. No signs of trauma, etc.

Jackson had been staying at the hotel since January 11 -- though it's unclear why he was living there considering he made a fortune during his 12 years as an NFL player.

Officials say Jackson's family filed a missing persons report regarding the NFL star on February 11. He was located on Feb. 12 and cops spoke with him.

"After assessing Jackson’s well-being, the missing persons case was canceled," officials say.

He was found dead in his hotel room days later.

Sheriff Chad Chronister issued a statement saying, "My heart aches for the many loved ones Vincent Jackson leaves behind, from his wife and children to the Buccaneers nation that adored him."

"Mr. Jackson was a devoted man who put his family and community above everything else."

Jackson worked closely with the Sheriff's Dept and was even made an honorary deputy.

"He will be sorely missed by not only football fans across the country, but also the people here in Hillsborough County who reaped the benefits of his generous contributions."

Jackson was a star athlete in both football and basketball at the University of Northern Colorado before going 61st overall to the San Diego Chargers in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Jackson played for the Chargers from 2005 to 2011, making the Pro Bowl twice.

He spent the latter part of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, earning a 3rd Pro Bowl spot in 2012.

The WR finally retired from the game in 2016. Jackson earned 540 receptions, 57 TDs and more than 9,000 receiving yards during his 12 seasons in the league ... and reportedly made more than $71 million in contract money during his NFL run.

Tributes are already starting to pour in ... his ex-Chargers teammate, Shawne Merriman, tweeted, "Man, no way. Praying for Vincent Jackson’s family. Dude was 3 years younger than me. Rest In Peace brother."

His alma mater also posted a tribute ...

The Chargers released a statement Monday ... saying, "We are shocked and deeply saddened by news of Vincent Jackson's sudden passing."

"Vincent was a fan favorite not only for his Pro Bowl play on the field but for the impact he made on the community off of it. The work he had done on behalf of military families through his foundation in the years since his retirement has been an inspiration to all of us."

"We simply cannot believe he's gone, and our hearts go out to his wife, Lindsey, their children, his parents, former teammates and everyone whose lives were touched by having known Vincent."

DJ Swearinger -- who played with Jackson on the Bucs in 2015 -- says, "My Goodness, may God be with your family Vincent Jackson! Rest In Peace! Og was a helluva teammate & a great guy frfr! Man I’m Praying for your Family."

NFL linebacker Tre Watson tweeted, "This Vincent Jackson story is so sad & really odd at the same time. Just doesn’t sound right."

Bucs star Mike Evans -- who played with Jackson for 2 seasons in TB -- shared his condolences ... saying, "V Jax thank you for everything I love you big bro. Praying for your family Rest in Paradise."

Story developing ...

Nicki Minaj Father, Robert Maraj, Dead at 64 Killed in Hit-and-Run

Exclusive

Nicki Minaj's father, Robert Maraj, has died after being struck in a hit-and-run accident ... TMZ has learned.

Nassau County Police in New York say he was walking on the road between Roslyn Road and Raff Avenue Friday evening around 6 PM ET, when he was hit by a vehicle heading northbound. Cops say the driver then fled the scene without a meaningful description from witnesses.

Robert was taken to an area hospital in critical condition, where he succumbed to his injuries and passed over the weekend. The Homicide Squad is investigating the case and asking for the public's help in identifying the responsible party. There was not a decent description of the suspect vehicle provided.

Nicki hasn't spoken on her dad's death yet. There are shots of them together embracing over the years, so they obviously had a decent relationship and saw each other from time to time. It's unclear what Nicki's relationship with her dad was currently.

A rep for Nicki confirmed her dad's death, but did not have further comment at this time.

Robert was just 64.

RIP

'Jeopardy!' Star Brayden Smith Dead at 24 Trebek's Last Great Champ

3:04 PM PT -- A family member tells us Smith died after a medical emergency, saying he died of natural causes.

Alex Trebek's last great "Jeopardy!" champion has died at the young age of only 24.

Brayden Smith, who scored a 5-game winning streak and more than $115,000 in winnings as Trebek's era came to a close, died unexpectedly last Friday in his hometown of Las Vegas. The cause of death is unclear.

Brayden's lifelong dream had always been to appear on "Jeopardy!" ... and the young man, who had reportedly tried getting on the show at least a dozen times, left a lasting impression on Trebek and fans alike.

His run was so impressive he drew comparisons to the great James Holzhauer because he also had a knack for finding the Daily Doubles and laying huge wagers when he did.

Trebek was very much impressed with Brayden's prolific run ... dubbing him "Billy Buzzsaw" for his ability to dismantle the competition. Trebek also uttered "Most impressive. I don't know what to say." Brayden, of course, appeared in the final shows Trebek ever hosted before he died from pancreatic cancer.

Brayden, who died about a month after his episode aired, had been looking forward to competing in the show's Tournament of Champions. He had just graduated from UNLV last year with a degree in economics and had hoped to attend law school and become a U.S. Attorney.

The family's asked that donations be made in Brayden's name here ... a fund benefiting Nevada students furthering their education.

RIP, Champ.

Originally Published -- 1:13 PM PT

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