By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Grammy-winning rapper Coolio pleaded guilty on Wednesday to unlawful firearm possession for carrying a loaded pistol in a backpack into Los Angeles International Airport last month and was sentenced to three years of probation, prosecutors said.

The 53-year-old recording star, whose legal name is Artis Leon Ivey, was also ordered to perform 45 days of community service under a negotiated plea deal sparing him from prison, according to a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

The rap artist was charged earlier this month with illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, an offense that carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.

At his hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of carrying a concealed weapon.

Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for prosecutors, said the rapper could return to court in a year to have his latest felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor, provided he fulfills his community service obligation by then and stays out of trouble with the law.

He already had two prior felony convictions on his record, from 2001 for carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle and in 2009 for possession of cocaine.

The judge told Coolio on Wednesday that if he were found to be in possession of even a single bullet during the next three years, he would end up back in court facing jail time for violating his probation.

The rap star sounded a note of contrition in remarks to reporters after the hearing, but said his latest brush with the law resulted from a "mistake."

"It was a misunderstanding," he said. "I do not condone the use of firearms, legal or illegal. Thanks to the court and the attorneys handing this for me so I can still do the work that I do."

According to police who arrested Coolio at the airport on Sept. 17, a stolen, loaded handgun was discovered in his backpack on the X-ray screening belt as his entourage was going through security to board a flight en route to a concert.

Coolio, a Los Angeles-area native, is perhaps best known for this 1995 Grammy Award-winning hit "Gangsta's Paradise," the No. 1 U.S. chart-topper that year and one of the best-selling singles of all time.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Hay)