The Tragic Life & Death Of Marvin Gaye | Part Two

(Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye. Photo credit:

Continued from part part one....

As I mentioned in part one, everyone thought that Tammi just had a migraine which caused her to collapse and expected the doctor to say something similar but the sad news was that the doctors had discovered a malignant tumour on the right side of her brain. Tammi had been suffering from headaches since she was a child but before the collapse she began to suffer from them more regularly. She would play down the pain and tell people that she was fine because she didn't want it to affect her career.

The diagnosis put an end to Tammi's live performances but she insisted that she carry on recording. It was after her first operation that she and Marvin recorded ''Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing'' and ''You're All I Need To Get By''. She really wanted to carry on recording but she became too ill. Marvin and Tammi had already recorded two successful albums together and they were in the middle of recording their third called ''Easy''. There's different stories on how the album came to be completed. In the book, What's Going On and The Last Days of The Motown Sound, it was reported that Tammi was too ill to record so Berry Gordy had Valarie Simpson come into the studio and record what should have been Tammi's vocals on the tracks. Marvin said it was ''another moneymaking scheme on Barry Gordy's part.''

Valarie Simpson has another version of events, she claims that Tammi did record all of the songs on the album.

Marvin was devastated at Tammi's diagnosis and began to feel disillusioned with Motown and the record business. He didn't like the way artists were treated like products and how everything was focused on record sales and money.

In 1966, Anna Gordy's niece (who was 17 at the time) had given birth to a baby boy. Marvin and Anna adopted him and named him ''Marvin III'. Marvin didn't want to give the child the same name as his father but he wanted to follow with tradition. It was later revealed that Marvin was the biological father of the baby.

On the 6th of October 1968, Marvin sang the national anthem at the Tiger Stadium in Detroit, during Game 4 of the 1968 World Series. The game was between the St Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers.

In late 1968, Marvin scored his first number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with ''I Heard It Through The Grapevine''. The song was a huge success and topped the charts in many countries as well as selling over four million copies. The song had previously been recorded by The Miracles and Gladys Knight & The Pips. Marvin's version was originally blocked by Berry Gordy, he thought Marvin's version was too heavy for Motown but he had the Gladys Knight and The Pips version released after a few adjustments.

You can hear Marvin's version of the song here and Gladys Knight and The Pips version here

No disrespect to Gladys Knight and The Pips but I found their version to be a bit upbeat, not to say I didn't like it but Marvin's vocals and the way he sang the song sounded like a man who had been done wrong, there was more feeling to the lyrics in my opinion. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Marvin's career was continuing to rise and he'd finally reached No 1 but instead of celebrating and feeling over the moon about it, he was still struggling to come to terms with Tammi's diagnosis and he disliked the record industry more and more as time went on. He said that he ''didn't deserve'' his success and ''felt like a puppet, Berry's puppet, Anna's puppet.'' 

More singles followed which reached the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and he scored his first No 1 album in 1969 with M.P.G.

In late 1969, whilst Marvin was appearing at the Apollo Theatre he spotted Tammi in the audience and immediately rushed down off the stage toward her, he insisted that she sing with him and they both sung ''You're All I Need To Get By''. They were given a standing ovation by the audience. This was sadly to be Tammi's final public appearance.

By 1970, Tammi's condition had worsened dramatically, she had lost a lot of weight and was confined to a wheelchair. She also suffered from blindness and hair loss. She had endured eight surgeries since her diagnosis and following her final operation, she fell into a coma. She died on the 16th of March from complications from brain cancer. She was only 24 years old and was a month shy of her 25th birthday.

Tammi's funeral was held in Philadelphia and everyone at Motown apart from Marvin was barred from attending the funeral. Her mother felt that Marvin was her daughter's only true friend and that he really cared about her whereas others only saw money. Marvin gave a final eulogy whilst ''You're All I Need To Get By'' was playing in the background.

Tammi's death pushed Marvin over the edge and he struggled to cope and went into a period of depression.

A few months after Tammi's death, Marvin managed to pull himself out of the depression and decided he'd try to join the professional football team, the Detroit Lions, however this was not to be as there were concerns that Marvin may develop injuries which could affect his singing career.

Instead of falling back into depression, he returned to Hitsville and worked on the song, ''What's Going On''. The song was inspired by a police brutality incident which was witnessed by Renaldo 'Obie' Benson. Berry Gordy wasn't happy with the song and said that it was too political for radio. Marvin refused to make any more recordings for Motown if they didn't release the song. He got his wish and in 1971 the song shot straight up to the No 1 of the R&B charts within a month and it remained there for five weeks. The song was a success and sold over two million copies.

Marvin gained creative control from Motown to record the ''What's Going On'' album after giving them an ultimatum. Marvin included a song called ''What's happening Brother'' which was dedicated to his brother Frankie and his experiences in the Vietnam War. The album became Marvin's first million selling album and it launched two more top ten singles ''Inner City Blues'' and ''Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).

An AllMusic writer cited that the album was  ''the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of it's finest voices.''

(Marvin Gaye. Photo credit:

Marvin received two Grammy Award nominations for the ''What's Going On'' album. He received several NAACP Image Awards and Rolling Stone called it the album of the year. Marvin was also named as ''Trendsetter of The Year''.

In 1971, Marvin signed a new contract with Motown which was worth over $1 million dollars, it was said to be the most lucrative deal by a black recording artist at that time. Marvin released a song called ''Trouble Man'', he originally planned to to release the album ''You're The Man'' which was a follow up to ''What's Going On'' but Marvin and Berry Gordy had clashed over political views and the album was shelved, ''Trouble Man'' was released instead. [In 2019, Universal Music group announced that ''You're The Man'' would receive an official release]

Around this time, Marvin and his wife, Anna and their son Marvin III left Detroit and moved to Los Angeles permanently.

In 1973, the ''Let's Get It On'' album was released and was another success for Marvin. The title track became Marvin's second No 1 single on the Hot 100 and the album stayed on the charts for three years and sold three million copies. Marvin also recorded a duet album with Diana Ross which was an international hit.

Marvin started his first tour in four years at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on the 4th of January, 1974. He received rave reviews and a live album of the performance was released.

Everything Marvin touched seemed to turn into gold and Motown knew they had a superstar on their hands. He had earned a highly respected reputation as a live performer and people were snapping up tickets to his concerts. He toured throughout 1974 and 1975 and built his own custom made studio after renewing his contract with Motown.

In October 1975, Marvin performed at the UNESCO benefit concert in New York City to support UNESCO's African literacy drive, he was commended at the United Nations by then Ambassador to Ghana, a certain Shirley Temple Black and Kurt Waldheim.

Marvin's next album release was ''I Want You'' and it's title track of the same name went to No 1 on the R&B chart. That summer he kicked off his first European tour in a decade, opening in England. In 1977 he released ''Live At The London Palladium'' which sold over two million copies and his single ''Got To Give It Up'' became a No 1 hit.

In 1977, after a turbulent marriage with Anna Gordy, they officially became divorced. There were rumours that he was having an affair with a 16 year old girl named Janis Hunter who he later married that same year. He and Janis would go on to have two children, Nona and Frankie and Janis would later describe the marriage as abusive, claiming that Marvin would force her to get involved in sexual activities with other people and ridiculed her weight after she had given birth.

In 1978, he released the album ''Here, My Dear'' which was inspired by the breakdown of his marriage to Anna Gordy. He planned to give her some of the royalties from the album to cover alimony payments but the album didn't do as well as he had hoped.

Around this time he was sinking into deep depression again and he was struggling to pull himself out of it. To make matters worse he became heavily addicted to cocaine and had financial problems.

He moved to Maui, Hawaii and tried to record a disco album. He went on a European tour in 1980 and by the end of the tour he remained in London for fear of being imprisoned for failure to pay back taxes which were said to have totalled up to $4.5 million.

Marvin's divorce to the mother of two of his children, Janis, had been finalised in 1981.

He began working on an album in London when someone stole a master tape from one of his travelling musicians and took it to Motown. Motown remixed the album and released it in 1981. Marvin was furious and accused Motown of editing and remixing the album without his consent, allowing the release of an unfinished production, altering the album art. He accused them of rush-releasing the album and compared it to an unfinished Picasso painting. Marvin vowed that he would never record any music for Motown again.

Marvin was in a bad situation with the drugs, the financial problems and now the trouble with Motown. He felt like he couldn't catch a break. Someone needed to step in and help him and that person was music promoter Freddy Cousaert who persuaded Marvin to come and stay in his apartment in Ostend, Belgium. Freddy wanted to help Marvin straighten himself out, get off the drugs and be back to his best.

Continued in part three...

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