The unsolved murder of Tupac Shakur is to this day one of the most widely debated homicides in music history – even now, over 21 years later, people still speculate about what exactly happened that night.
This is what we know for sure: On the evening of September 7th, 1996, Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight, the then-CEO of Death Row Records, attended a Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In the casino lobby, Shakur had a run-in with alleged Crips gang member Orlando Anderson. There was a brief fight – Shakur and Knight’s entourage got involved – but it was eventually broken up, and the men went their separate ways.
Shakur and Knight headed out toward Club 662, a since-shuttered nightclub owned by Knight. While Shakur and Knight were on their way to the club, around 11 p.m., a white Cadillac pulled up next to them on the passenger side while they idled at a stoplight. An unidentified gunman then fired 14 shots into their car.
Shakur was hit four times – twice in the chest, once in the arm and once in the thigh – with one bullet puncturing his right lung. Knight was injured by a bullet fragment that hit him in the head, but otherwise walked away unscathed.
The rapper was taken to a nearby hospital, where doctors kept him alive for six days before his mother finally made the decision to stop treatment on September 13th, 1996, at 4:03 p.m. His official cause of death was cardiac arrest.
Following Tupac’s death, investigators looked into a number of suspects, including Anderson. Anderson’s affiliation with the Crips would have made the shooting a gang-related retaliation hit. Members of a 10-car entourage following Knight and Shakur told officers that it was Anderson who fired the shots. But Anderson was later killed in an unrelated gang shooting, and the cops lost their lead.
The media was quick to jump on a different narrative that placed the blame on Shakur’s former friend and east coast rival, The Notorious B.I.G. The pair had come up together in the early 1990s, with Shakur even acting as Biggie’s mentor of sorts. Things eventually went south in the middle of the decade when the two rappers got embroiled in an epic East Coast-West-Coast rap rivalry.
The feud was believed to have been sparked by Biggie’s 1994 song “Who Shot Ya?” The possible diss track is said to be about Shakur getting shot and robbed in New York City. Two years later, in 1996, Shakur released “Hit ‘Em Up,” in which he alludes to having an affair with Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans. Evans later told MTV News that Biggie was afraid that people would believe he was responsible for Shakur’s death, and feared retaliation. Biggie denied such claims.
Six months later, on March 9, 1997, Biggie was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting while leaving a party in Los Angeles after the Soul Train Awards. His death also remains unsolved.
A third theory put the blame on Suge Knight. Fans have pointed to a possibly frosty relationship between the Death Row Records CEO and his rising star. Theorists believe Shakur was ready to leave the label to start his own, and so Knight orchestrated his murder that night in Las Vegas, a claim that he has strongly denied.
In fact, in 2017, Knight stood behind a new documentary about Shakur’s death that pointed to yet another possibility. The documentary claims that Knight’s ex-wife, Sharitha Golden, and Reggie Willis Jr., the former head of security for Death Row Records, had actually plotted a hit on him in order to gain control of the label. Golden has publicly denied the accusation.
But perhaps the most outrageous, more popular theory out there, is that Shakur didn’t die at all that fall. That just maybe he’s still alive and living in Cuba after having faking his own death. Supposed evidence includes his seven posthumous records, a supposedly “fake” autopsy photo, and his mother’s choice of words when she told the world that her son Tupac “chose to leave quietly.”
This is in a long, long tradition of music stars who fans have claimed faked their own deaths and escaped – like Jim Morrison, who supposedly faked his own death in Paris and ran off to Ethiopia, or Elvis Presley who spelled his name wrong on his own tombstone in Graceland and then went into hiding. Elvis was frequently spotted at supermarkets and other public places all over America in the Eighties and Nineties.
But the case of Tupac may just remain a mystery unsolved.