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‘I Was Barely Getting By’: How Former Gap Band Singer Charlie Wilson Bounced Back After Drugs and Financial Struggles 

Charlie Wilson is best known as the lead singer of the popular The Gap Band. His distinctive voice, alone, redefined and combined the sound of R&B with what we know as funk music. But fame and fortune can sometimes bring both personal and financial struggles.

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 12: Charlie Wilson performs onstage at the Shrine Auditorium on February 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

The iconic singer-songwriter gained massive success with The Gap Band and then as a solo artist. Over the last three decades, the Tulsa, Oklahoma, native has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards and released eight solo albums. His first Grammy nod was for The Gap Band’s 1983 track “Where Are We Going?” while his first solo nod came in 1996 for “Stomp.” To date, Wilson’s highest-ranking album on the Billboard 200 is 2008’s “Uncle Charlie” at #2. It features guest appearances from his frequent collaborator Snoop Dogg, as well as T-Pain, and Jaime Foxx.

After a series of setbacks, homelessness, and other mishaps in his personal and professional life, the celebrated artist found a way to bounce back with love, faith, and support from his family and friends. His net worth is currently $15 million, according to Celebrity net worth. But his comeback is a story of triumph and adversity. 

Here’s a breakdown of how Charlie Wilson went from homeless to Grammy nods and how he’s doing now.

Success Followed by Homelessness and More Misfortune

Wilson sang in The Gap Band with his brothers, Ronnie and Robert. Between the late 1970s and 1980s, they brought the world a number of classic hits like “You Dropped the Bomb on Me,” “Outstanding,” and “Yearning For Your Love.” The group ran into a few obstacles in 1986 after splitting their publishing deal with their manager at the time. Their struggle to find new management presented more financial hardships for the group.

“People really don’t know how I laid in the streets,” Wilson told The Associated Press, as reported by Cleveland.com in 2010. “From that to this, I cried when they told me I had a Grammy nomination. It still doesn’t seem real to me, because so many doors have been shut on me so many times. … Everything was derailed.”

The 69-year-old musician professed that the manager dropped The Gap Band and created problems for anyone who tried to sign them while still under contract. Wilson spent two years living on the streets.

He said, “I couldn’t bounce back from that. Everywhere we went, [the ex-manager] ran interference. He threatened people. It was a sad situation. Drugs came. My brothers and I weren’t getting along that well.”

How Wilson Beat Drugs and Homelessness

The stress from money not flowing in drove the “Bridging The Gap” artist to cocaine and alcohol, which left him homeless for two years. During an interview with Essence magazine in 2020, he recalled sleeping in alleys in Hollywood and hiding as the sun came up from people who knew him.

In 1995, the entertainer entered a rehab facility to combat his addictions. In the midst of his recovery, Wilson met Mahin Wilson, a drug counselor at the rehab who later became his wife. He explained how she patiently helped him reach sobriety and inspired his fifth solo album, “Just Charlie.”

“She was patient and kind. Mahin asked me, ‘What are you going to do when you get out?’ I broke down. ‘I don’t have anywhere to go,’ I told her,” Wilson shared. “Mahin told me she’d help and she did. She was there, helping me get clean. She instilled a sense of faith in me that had been lost over the years.”

He said, “She taught me how to do more than just exist. More importantly, Mahin taught me how to live again. At that time, I didn’t know how to live. I was barely getting by. After rehab, Mahin helped me get a place and furniture.”

Wilson admitted that he was “crazy about her” and asked for her hand in marriage. “I told her I can’t do this by myself. I needed her by my side,” he told Essence. 

After years of being clean, the former Gap Band singer got back in the studio, recording collaborations with the likes of Snoop Dogg, R. Kelly, and more. Kelly produced Wilson’s 2005 album, “Charlie, Last Name Wilson,” which reintroduced him to the world as a solo album artist. Three months after its released in August, the song peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.

Wilson’s Battle With Prostate Cancer

Wilson and Mahin have been married for 27 years. She was with him when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. It was detected early because his wife “insisted” he get tested for the disease — considering 1 in 6 African-American men will get prostate cancer in their life. According to WebMD, Black men are twice as likely to die from it compared to other racial groups. 

The news was devastating to Wilson, who was tired of being derailed by life challenges. 

“This time I felt I couldn’t get up. I just kept getting kicked down. I really felt like I’m never going to win. I’m losing all the time,” he remembers. “I hate to say this, but I was a wimp. I was so down after the diagnosis, but Mahin was so strong. She took the bull by the horns and helped me through it all.”

Now, Wilson works with the Prostate Cancer Foundation. He’s dedicated his time to encouraging other Black men to get tested early. He also helps other cancer patients raise funds for treatment on GoFundMe and other platforms.

Wilson on Life After Drugs and Cancer

For overcoming adversity, drugs, homelessness, and cancer, Wilson received the Music Makes A Difference honor at the 49th Annual NAACP Image Awards in 2018. He was honored for his philanthropic work and for supporting the U.S. troops.

Wilson is also a part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame Class of 2023, in which he will receive a star on the world-famous walkway. 

The R&B legend is still touring and staying on top of the charts due to his latest single, “No Stopping’ Us.” The Wilson-led collaboration features fellow legends Babyface, Johnny Gill, and K-Ci Hailey of Jodi. The song topped Billboard’s Adult R&B Airplay song chart in August this year — the first chart-topping record with four credited artists. Kirk Franklin’s “Lean On Me” ballad reached the same milestone in 1999, featuring vocals from Mary J. Blige, Bono, R. Kelly, Crystal Lewis & The Family. 

Wilson continues to serve as a beacon of light and inspiration for many seeking redemption. He encourages others to stay driven toward their goals with inspirational messages and posts on social media. 

“I got a testimony and I want you to know it’s never too late to change the direction of your life,” he wrote on Sept. 12, in addition to sharing a clip from his Celebration of Gospel performance. 

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