Grabbing At A Dead Star

RAP STAR TUPAC SHAKUR'S ASHES had hardly cooled before the gold rush began. Now, almost a year after his death, his mother is defending the estate from an old lover who turned up to prove he's Topaz's father. An Arkansas court has already awarded $16.6 million to a woman who was shot at a Topaz concert. Until a tentative settlement last week, Topaz's label, Death Row Records, was demanding a $7 million slice, and its imprisoned CEO wanted millions more. Even C. Delores Tucker, the gangster rap foe, wants a chunk. She and her husband claim that a lyrical attack by Tupac iced their sex life. ""It's like being on a ship and watching pirates trying to loot it,'' says attorney Richard Fischbein, who administers the estate with Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur.

As Thomas Mann wrote, ""A man's dying is more the survivors' affair than his own.'' Since Tupac was murdered last September, his multimillion-dollar legacy has become the contentious affair of kin, colleagues and alleged opportunists from L.A. to Australia. In his lifetime, Tupac's profane rap lyrics and violent encounters made him controversial, helping to swell by tens of millions of dollars the coffers of Death Row and its corporate benefactors, Interscope Records, Time Warner and Seagram's Universal (formerly MCA).

Yet Tupac was almost broke when he died. Alleging massive fraud and conspiracy, Fischbein and Afeni Shakur sued Death Row, its jailed CEO, ""Suge'' Knight, and its lawyer, David Kenner. They owed Tupac at least $9.9 million, the suit alleged, and $7.1 million more in expenses charged to his account that he hadn't incurred, including $120,000 for a house Kenner rented. As of last Friday, the estate was close to settling on its terms, according to Fischbein. Even before that, he adds, there was $7 million on hand from royalties and movies. A settlement could ultimately push the estate's value to $50 million, estimates one person close to the matter.

The fortune increases the stakes in the ugly probate battle in Los Angeles between Tupac's parents. Tupac had no will, but there seems little doubt that he would have wanted his mother to inherit. The identity of his biological father had always been in doubt. Although Afeni had once been a confessed drug addict, her son loved and supported her, writing a song about her titled ""Dear Mama.'' But California law requires the estate to be split by the parents if there's no will. Enter William M. Garland, who has established paternity through DNA testing. ""Afeni had contended that Tupac's father was dead,'' says Garland's attorney, Mitchell Reinis. Says Fischbein: ""We call it the case of the deadbeat dad. He won't be rewarded for his lack of interest in his son.''

The most serious blow to the estate resulted from a 1993 tragedy in Pine Bluff, Ark., in which Jacquelyn McNealey, 27, was struck by a stray bullet at a Tupac concert. Last November a judge granted damages of $16.6 million when Tupac's representatives failed to show at a hearing. Fischbein says Tupac was never properly notified of the lawsuit and that he himself knew nothing of it until he was phoned by MTV after the judgment. The estate is appealing. ""The police report totally said Tupac had nothing to do with it,'' Fischbein says.

Fischbein fairly smirks about the suit by Tucker, a persistent crusader against gangsta rap. On an album last year, Tupac addressed Tucker as a ""motherf--ker,'' and he suggested that she was a prostitute--at least that's what she alleges in a lawsuit against the estate, Death Row and others. Among other things, she asserts that she feared for her life, had been humiliated and can no longer have sex with her husband. Says Fischbein: ""I can't wait to hear her testimony on that subject.'' Her attorney, Richard Angino, says the lyrics ""affected the family union.'' On that note, Tupac will rest in peace.