At the peak of his career the “Prince of Motown” had his life taken away by the person who gave him that life in the first place.
After his soulful voice brought us hits like “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” the singer with a 25-year recording career wouldn’t give us another hit.
On April 1, 1984, Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his own father, just one day shy of his 45th birthday.
The physical cause of Gaye’s death was straight-forward, ”Gunshot wound to chest perforating heart, lung and liver,” according to the Los Angeles County Coroner, but the events leading up to his death were much more tangled.
The Grammy-winning singer who topped charts with is classics, including “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” shocked the world with the news of his death.
Gaye grew up in Washington D.C. singing and playing the organ in his father’s church. He joined the Army at the age of 17. After his stint in the army, he moved to Detroit where he was hired as a drummer by Motown Records founder Berry Gordy.
Personal problems in Gaye’s life wreaked havoc on his career in the mid-70s.
Gaye and his father had a longstanding conflict that dated back to his childhood.
Marvin Gay, Sr. was a preacher in the Hebrew Pentecostal Church and upheld a strict moral code that he brutally enforced with his four children.
He was also reportedly a hard-drinking cross-dresser who struggled with his own moral code.
It was said that Marvin Sr. held significant resentment over his son’s success, and Marvin Jr. clearly had unresolved feelings towards his father’s abuse.
"Marvin's relationship with his father made him who he was. His need to be successful, find love and then take drugs were all down to it. No matter what he achieved with his songs, all he got was resentment and criticism," Steve Turner, Gaye’s biographer. Marvin Gaye added the "e" to his surname after "Gay" prompted jibes about his sexuality, a sensitive subject given his father's proclivity for cross-dressing.
But it was more than just their complicated relationship that would lead to the tragic events of April 1st, 1984.
The final time the father and son saw each other was in the Los Angeles home of Marvin Sr. and his wife Alberta.
The international recording star had moved into his parents’ home in late 1983 at a low point in his life when he was struggling with depression, debt, and cocaine abuse. Only a year after his chart-topping single “Sexual Healing,” Marvin Jr. was not in a good place. After the breakup of his second marriage to Janie Hunter, he once tried to kill himself by ingesting more than an ounce of cocaine.
"Marvin was made totally paranoid by drugs at the end. He had people testing his food and water, and bodyguards with sub-machine guns in adjacent hotel rooms," Turner said.
After an argument between the father and son escalated into a physical fight, Marvin Sr. went into his bedroom while Alberta Gay was trying to calm her son down.
"His life was in a terrible state. He'd lost the women who were important to him. All the evidence I've found is that Marvin provoked the incident because he knew what the result would be," Turner said.
He returned with a revolver that was given to him by Marvin Jr. and shot his son three times in the chest.
Police found the father sitting on the front porch and the five-shot handgun on the front lawn.
Marvin Gaye’s brother, Frankie, lived next door and was there during the singer’s final moments. He later wrote his memoirs and said that in Marvin Jr.’s final moments he revealed a telling statement.
“I got what I wanted….I couldn’t do it myself, so I made him do it.”
Marvin Sr. was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and given a six-year suspended prison sentence.
14 years after he shot his son, he died of pneumonia in hospital at the age of 84.