She has no regrets. "Other people think I'm crazy or whacked out, but I wouldn't trade my life for anything." When, twenty years into the relationship, Charles suggested they discuss "making something of ourselves," Soto told him he was full of bullshit.

It was just as well. "Ray was stingy," Soto says. "Later [after he died] I learned it was because he was supporting a harem." But during his lifetime, she learned about a relationship with only one other woman. Her name was Norma, and Charles had bought her a Mercedes. Soto never confronted him about that, but as revenge, she stole enough money from his wallet to buy a used car. "I'm not going to tell you how much money I stole," she says. "But after that we were together another fifteen years."

Soto finally reached the breaking point in 1997, when Charles went on tour in Europe and didn't call for three weeks. "I wish things had been different — easier," she says. "It was hard to deal with. I didn't regret it."

Marci Soto with Ray Charles. 
Courtesy Marci Soto
Marci Soto with Ray Charles. .
Soto today in her Kirkwood home.
Jennifer Silverberg
Soto today in her Kirkwood home.

It took Soto six years to write Ray & Me. She relied heavily on the 40 cassette tapes of conversations with Charles she'd recorded over the years. (He knew she was recording, she says, but he didn't care, just like he didn't care that she took pictures of him in his boxers.) Originally, she worked with a ghostwriter, but after they failed to interest any publishers in the project, Soto decided to finish on her own. "It was therapeutic," she says, "a way to get through Ray's death. I wanted to show people the Ray I knew, not the Ray in the movie."

The last time she spoke with Charles was in 2004, three months before he died. It was another conversation prompted by a TV appearance, this time the NAACP Image Awards. By then it was obvious he was suffering from the liver cancer that would eventually kill him.

"Oh, my God, when I saw him, I started to cry," Soto says. "His suit hung on him like a hanger. His voice was weak. His face was gaunt and drawn. I said, 'I gotta call him.' I didn't have his number, so I called the studio. When he got on the phone, I couldn't talk, I just wept. I asked questions: 'Do you have someone taking care of you? Are you in pain?' I told him I was having hip surgery the following week. He said he would call, but I never heard from him again. I think he figured he had time, but he didn't have time. I wish I could do it over. I wish I'd told him I'd love him till I drew my last breath."

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