The Tragic Life & Death Of Marvin Gaye | Part One

(Marvin Gaye. Photo credit:

When I mention the name Marvin Gaye, what comes into your mind? Do you think of his classic hits, his handsome good looks, his voice or how he became one of the most influential artists of all time? Maybe you think of all these things but then you remember how it all came to a tragic end just hours before he reached his 45th birthday. He was a wonderful and talented man who appeared to everyone outside of his family, friends and business associates to have had the world at his feet, but suddenly he was gone and it all made no sense.

I knew of his songs and that he had died young but I didn't know about his life and what had really happened to him on the 1st of April 1984. I knew it would take a lot of time and research but I wanted to know more about Marvin and I felt really compelled to cover his story.

It has been an emotional roller coaster researching and writing about this case because Marvin, to me,  is someone who brought a lot of joy, inspiration and happiness to the world but behind closed doors he was desperately unhappy, struggled with depression, suicidal thoughts and a father who rejected him and his career but was happy to live off of his money.

I didn't want to just write about Marvin's death, I wanted to write a little bit about his background too.

In the following posts there may be some mention of depression and suicide so please be warned.

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Let's begin...

''The Prince of Soul'' Marvin Pentz Gay Jr was born on the 2nd of April 1939 at Freedman's Hospital in Washington, D.C. His father, Marvin Gay Sr was a church minister and his mother was a domestic worker. Marvin was the second oldest of four children, he had one brother called Frankie and two sisters, Jeanne and Zeola who the family nicknamed ''Sweetsie''. He also had two half brothers, Michael, who was his mother's son from a previous relationship and Antwaun Carey Gay who was born as a result of one of his father's extramarital affairs.

Marvin's early years were spent living in humble surroundings which he and his friends had called ''Simple City''. Most of the people he knew lived in small houses which were overcrowded and some of them lacked running water and electricity. Like a lot of young people growing up in poverty at that time, Marvin and his friends didn't know any different and everyone seemed to have the same struggles as they had.

The thing that bothered Marvin was the teasing from the other kids about his father. Marvin Sr liked to dress in women's clothes and his wife's stockings and high heels. The neighbours thought that he was homosexual and he was often the talk of the neighbourhood. People thought that it was strange for a minister to be behaving in such a manner and Marvin Sr didn't seem to care, he was very flamboyant and proud about it. Marvin Sr never spoke of being gay but years later would prefer to have a separate bedroom from his wife.

What also confused the neighbourhood gossips was that Marvin Sr would often get close to some of the women in the church and was said to have had a few affairs with them. He also had a heavy drinking problem.

Marvin's relationship with his father was a difficult one from the moment he was born. Marvin Sr refused to believe that Marvin was his biological son and this belief, despite his wife telling him otherwise, stayed in his mind. His mother, Alberta, adored him and they had a close relationship but she was quite a soft and laid back type of person. His father was very strict and made it clear that he was in charge. Marvin Sr would often tell his children if they thought to ever disobey him that he ''brought them into the world and he could take them back out.''

''We were a strange family, we were very much sheltered from the neighbourhood and I know they looked on us as being very strange.'' - Frankie Gay 

In the Gay household, movies and TV were banned and the children were set a curfew. If anyone failed to follow the rules they would be punished by Marvin Sr. Marvin would always face beatings from his father, who would use a leather belt, because he was the most rebellious of the children. He would later say that he felt like his father was getting some sort of enjoyment out of beating him.

The only music that was allowed in the house was gospel. Marvin Sr considered the music in the charts to be the devil's music and he didn't believe in songs that he thought promoted sin and sexual desires. Marvin didn't know any other music but gospel till he got a little bit older.

He began singing in the church when he was four years old, his father would play the piano as he sang gospel music and people would be amazed at this talented little boy. As people congratulated him on having such a talented son, Marvin Sr would say that his gifted son was going to make the family rich someday.

(Always a cutie: Marvin Gaye in his younger years. Photo credit:

Unknown to Marvin Sr at the time, Marvin was on the path to stardom from the very moment that he began singing in the church, to him it was his calling and he believed that he was chosen by God to bring music to the people and help change society for the better. Marvin loved to sing and it came naturally to him, his mother encouraged him to follow his heart and without his father knowing, he would listen to songs by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole amongst others. He learnt Mario Lanza's ''Be My Love'' word for word and performed the song in a school play when he was 11 to great applause. He knew that this is what he was destined to do and that he enjoyed bringing smiles to people's faces when he sang.

Marvin enjoyed all of the positive attention that singing brought him but his home life had become unbearable at times. He still endured beatings and his father would often raise his hand to him over the slightest thing he had done wrong. Marvin would say years later that living with his father was like ''living with a king, a very peculiar, changeable, cruel and all powerful king.''

He said that if his mother had shown him the same lack of love, praise and warmth that his father had, he wouldn't have been able to cope and would have committed suicide.

At Randall Junior High he joined the Glee club and became a singing star. During his teenage years the tension with his father was often at boiling point and he would often be kicked out of the house. To escape the drama he dropped out of high school at 17 and joined the United States Air Force. The Air Force didn't turn out to be what he thought it was going to be and he wasn't happy performing what he called menial tasks so he faked illness and was discharged. His sergeant would later say that he refused to follow orders which with Marvin always being a bit of a rebel you could believe to be true.

Realising that his stint in the Air Force wasn't for him, he returned to his first love which was singing. He formed a vocal quartet with his friend Reese Palmer and they called themselves ''The Marquees''. The group's first single failed to chart and they were dropped by their record label. Marvin didn't let this deter him and he was determined to carry on.

The Moonglows founder, Harvey Fuqua hired The Marquees and changed the name of the group to ''Harvey and the New Moonglows''. They recorded several sides for Chess in 1959 which included Marvin's first lead vocal recording on the song ''Mama Loocie'' and the group relocated to Chicago. They also found work as session singers and worked with Chuck Berry on the tracks ''Back in the U.S.A'' and ''Almost Grown''.

The group broke up in 1960 and Marvin moved to Detroit with Harvey Fuqua where he worked at Tri-Phi Records as a session drummer, playing on some of their record releases. During the holiday season of that year he performed at the home of Motown's president, Berry Gordy. Berry was so impressed with his voice, his look and overall performance that he negotiated with Harvey to have Marvin signed to Motown subsidiary Tamla.

Marvin had always felt self conscious of his surname ever since he was young and the kids at school would call him ''Mr F**got'', he was thinking of changing his surname to something more showbiz but in the end he settled with just adding an e onto the end of his name, just like one of his idols, Sam Cooke.

His first single and album failed commercially and he spent the best part of 1961 as a session drummer for artists such as Jimmy Reed, The Marvellettes and The Miracles for very little money. He still wasn't giving up on his dream and worked on perfecting his art and he would take advice from other experienced artists. He was advised to keep his eyes open when he performed and was advised to attend the John Roberts Powers School for Social Grace in Detroit but he refused to go. The rebellious side of him didn't take to kindly to be given orders, possibly a strike back after years of growing up in a strict household. He would later say that he regretted not attending the school.

In 1962, he began to shine as a songwriter when he co-wrote a hit song for The Marvellettes. His first hit song ''Stubborn Kind of Fellow'' was released in September of that year and went to the eighth position on the R&B chart and No 46 on the Billboard Hot 100. Around this time he had married Anna Gordy who he had been seeing romantically since 1960. Anna was the older sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy. There was no doubt that Anna and Marvin had fallen deeply in love with each other but some people believed that part of Marvin's interest in Anna was to do with furthering his career.

In 1963, Marvin reached the top 40 with the dance song ''Hitch Hike'' which went to No 30 on the Hot 100 and the song ''Pride and Joy'' became his first top ten single. 

He performed as part of the Motortown Revue and performed at the Apollo Theatre in June, 1963. Tamla released one of Marvin's live shows as an album which was called ''Marvin Gaye Recorded Live on Stage: Can I Get A Witness''. The album became one of his early international hits.

(The golden duet, Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye. Photo credit:

In 1964, Marvin recorded a duet album with Mary Wells which reached No 42 on the pop album chart and a single reached the top 20. ''How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)'' reached No 6 on the Hot 100 and reached the top 50 in the UK. He started appearing on Television shows such as American Bandstand and appeared in the concert film The T.A.M.I Show. In 1965 he had two number one singles with ''Ain't That Peculiar'' and ''I'll Be Doggone'' which became million sellers.

He was also involved in a tribute album to one of his singing inspirations who had passed away that year, Nat King Cole. 

He recorded his second duet with Kim Weston which became a huge hit and a classic, ''It Takes Two''. 

The most famous duet of them all though, was with Tammi Terrell and the pair just seemed to light up the stage together. There was a definite spark between them but it was never revealed whether they ever had a romantic relationship, all is known is that they were very close. They were both beautiful and talented people and you could see the joy in their performances and hear it in the songs they recorded together. Songs such as ''Ain't No Mountain High Enough'', ''Your Precious Love'', ''Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing'' and ''You're All I Need To Get By'' have continued to bring joy to people of all ages all around the world for decades. 

Marvin was on top of the world and living his dream, enjoying the fame, adoration and success. At the moment that everything seemed to be going well for him, where all the hard work and struggling was beginning to pay off and he was now officially a star, heartache and tragedy was just around the corner.

They always say that life is like that, one minute you're up and the next you're down. Everything going well and you're at the top of your game and then out of nowhere something happens and you find yourself trying to keep your head above water. 

It's hard to say where Marvin's struggle with depression began, he may have been so busy working hard towards his career that he was distracted and didn't have the time to sit down and think. We know he had a difficult and often abusive childhood and sometimes people can bottle things up for years and it takes a traumatic event to unleash a lot of pent up emotions and you start to remember all of the bad things that happened to you and that's where the anger comes in. 

The rise to success and the fun came to an abrupt stop when Marvin and Tammi were performing a live show in Farmville, Virginia. Everything was going well, the audience were enjoying themselves and the pair lit up the stage as always. At some point during the performance, Tammi collapsed into Marvin's arms. There was panic and nobody knew what was happening. An ambulance was called and she was rushed to the hospital. Marvin was worried sick and was scared he was going to lose her. Tammi had suffered from headaches since she was a child so they originally thought that she'd collapsed due to a severe migraine. The doctors ran some tests and the news they had in store for Tammi and her family was heartbreaking.

Continued in part two...

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