Kanye's Mama Dies After Plastic Surgery

Donda West, former college professor who guided her son's Grammy-winning career, dies suddenly following "cos

By Josh Grossberg Nov 12, 2007 10:25 PMTags

Hey, Mama, you'll be missed.

Donda West, the former Chicago State University English professor who left higher education to guide her son Kanye to a Grammy-winning hip-hop career, died Saturday evening in Los Angeles.

She was 58.

According to Patricia West, a spokeswoman for Donda West, the cause of death was complications stemming from a "cosmetic procedure."

The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office confirmed Monday the death is under investigation, but initial indications are that she succumbed to complications from surgery. Lieutenant Fred Corral, the watch commander, declined to elaborate, only saying West was pronounced dead at  Centinela Marina Hospital in Marina del Rey at 8:20 p.m. Saturday.

It was unclear when the surgery took place. West was brought to the facility by ambulance from an undisclosed location, a hospital official said. A public information officer for the Los Angeles County Fire Department said paramedics were called to Donda West's address about 7:35 p.m. Saturday.

Her remains were to be transported to the coroner’s office later Monday, and the autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday, Corral said.

A prominent Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon had turned down West for surgery citing a preexisting medical condition.

Dr. Andre Aboolian told West two weeks ago that she needed medical clearance before he would perform a procedure, according to the physician's publicist, Jo-Anne Geffen. Geffen didn't go into specifics about the requested surgery or West's condition, citing patient privacy laws.

"Kanye West, his family and friends would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of support and kind words that have come in from across the country since the death of his mother, Dr. Donda West," read a statement released on behalf of the family.

There was also no immediate word on whether he would perform as scheduled at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. The rapper was due to open the show, which tapes this Thursday and airs Dec. 4 on CBS.

The 30-year-old rapper reportedly got the bad news while in London on the eve of a U.K. tour; he immediately boarded a plane for Los Angeles. 

West's photojournalist father, Ray, left them when Kanye was 11 months old. Ray and Donda West divorced two years later, and she relocated Kanye from Atlanta to Chicago. There, she raised him as a single parent during his formative years—a time the rap star recounts with pride, citing her struggles to provide for him while working hard to forge a successful career as a teacher.

After he gained fame, first as one of hip-hop's most sought-after producers and then as a solo artist with his 2004 debut album, The College Dropout, Kanye celebrated the positive role Donda played in his upbringing in the track "Hey Mama" off 2005's Late Registration.

"Hey, Mama, I wanna scream so loud for you/ Cuz I'm so proud of you/ I know I act a fool/ But I promise you I'm going back to school/ I appreciate what you allow for me/ I just want you to be proud of me," goes the refrain.

Later in the song, he raps: "My mama told me go to school/ Get your doctorate/ Somethin' to fall back on, you could profit with/ But still supported me when I did the opposite."

He performed the tune in his mom's honor during an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, while she beamed on in the audience.

After 31 years rising through the teaching ranks to chair the English Department at Chicago State, Donda West retired in 2004 to manage her son's burgeoning career. She also headed up Super Good, the parent company of the emcee's fast-growing business empire, which includes apparel, accessories and other lifestyle products, and was the chairwoman of the Kanye West Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to increasing literacy and preventing youths from dropping out of school.

Donda West cowrote a book about their close relationship in Raising Kanye: Life Lessons from the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar.

"I never make any important decision without consulting her," the entertainer told the Chicago Times two years ago.

Kanye West's songwriting partner, Rhymefest, appeared on Chicago radio station WCGI Sunday and paid tribute to Donda.

"She was everyone's mom," he said. "A spirit never dies, a spirit lasts forever."

Funeral arrangements are pending.