Thirty-three years ago on April 1st 1984, legendary singer and “Prince of Motown” Marvin Gaye Jr. was shot and killed by his father, Marvin Gay Sr. in their home in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA, bringing his twenty five year as a recording artist to an untimely end. Best known for his single, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” which enjoyed a three week run at the top of the charts in 1969, the singer had life-long strained relationship with his father, Marvin Gay Sr. a minister who was a strictly religious pastor, and was rumored to be an alcoholic and a crossdresser who was wildly jealous of his son’s success as a musician.
The middle child, Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. began singing at the age of three in his father’s church. He later added an “e” to his last name, both to create distance from his father, and also apparently to quell rumors about his sexuality. In an attempt to escape abuse from his father, Marvin Jr. dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force, where he was eventually honorably discharged. He then began working as a session drummer for a number of Motown staples, including Stevie Wonder, The Supremes and Martha and The Vandellas while at the same time building his solo career as a musician.
After years of regional success, Gaye signed with Motown Records. His first hit came in 1962 with the release of “Hitch Hike.” A series of collaborations with Tammi Terrell led to the smash hit, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” In 1970, Terrell lost an ongoing battle against a brain tumor. Gaye was devastated and vowed never to sing with another duet partner again.
Inspired by the growing civil rights movement movement of the time, Gaye wrote and released “What’s Going On” in 1970, despite a series of disagreements between Gaye and his label, Motown Records about the direction of the song. Gaye was intent on shaking up Motown’s tried and true recipe for success, and sought to become increasing political with his music.
Gaye had a long history of depression and drug abuse, which led to a period of semi-retirement in the years following the success of “What’s Going On.” In an interview with The Guardian, Gaye explains, “I was terribly disillusioned with a lot of things in life and life in general, and decided to take time out to try to do something about it.” Gaye secluded himself from the music business, and refused to perform live for over two years.
Then, in 1973, Gaye released his first funk single, “Let’s Get It On” on Tamla Records, which Rolling Stone called, “a classic Motown single, endlessly repeatable and always enjoyable.”
In addition to his ongoing battle with depression, Gaye had a troubled relationship with the IRS, at one point owing them over $4.5 million in back taxes. Gaye sought exile in Europe, where he recorded his final album, “Midnight Love.”
His next hit, “Sexual Healing” earned him two Grammy awards, and also paved the way for Gaye to re-enter the world of drug addiction and paranoia, including recurring premonitions that he was about to be murdered. While on tour with “Sexual Healing” Gaye often wore a bulletproof vest. Mired in addiction and saddled with debt, Gaye moved home to live with his parents, which re-ignited the lifelong battles between father and son.
Gaye had attempted suicide three times over the course of his life. In 1969 he attempted to shoot himself in the chest with a handgun but was stopped by Barry Gordy. Ten years later, he ingested an ounce of cocaine with the intention of overdosing, and the week of his death, he jumped out of a moving car.
Then, on the night of April 1st, 1984 at approximately 12:38pm, Gaye and his father got in an argument about Marvin Sr.’s treatment of his wife, Alberta during a disagreement over insurance papers. Gay pulled out the .38 pistol his son had given him that Christmas and fatally shot his son in the chest, firing a second shot from point blank range.
Gaye was one day shy of his 45th birthday.
Marvin Sr. pled no contest to voluntary manslaughter and received a six year suspended sentence and five years probation. He died of pneumonia at the age of 83 in a retirement facility. At his sentencing, Gay told the court: "If I could bring him back, I would. I was afraid of him. I thought I was going to get hurt. I didn't know what was going to happen. I'm really sorry for everything that happened. I loved him. I wish he could step through this door right now. I'm paying the price now."
[Photo: Getty Images]