Marvin Gaye facts: Motown singer's career, wife, children, parents and death explained

11 January 2021, 17:03 | Updated: 8 February 2022, 17:09

Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Marvin Gaye was one of the most gifted and popular soul icons of the 20th century, and his music will forever be timeless.

From his Motown career, his iconic songs to his untimely death, here's all the big facts every Marvin Gaye fan should know:

  1. When was Marvin Gaye born and what was his real name?

    Marvin Gaye in 1961
    Marvin Gaye in 1961. Picture: Getty

    Marvin Gaye's real last name was Gay (without the 'e'). However, he was bullied from a young age due to homophobia, and because his father was known to be a crossdresser.

    Read more: Marvin Gaye's 10 greatest songs, ranked

    Due to this, and rumours of the singer's own sexuality, Marvin added the 'e' to his last name when he became famous.

    He was born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr on April 2, 1939, in Washington DC.

  2. Who were Marvin Gaye's parents?

    Marvin Gaye and parents
    Marvin Gaye and parents. Picture: Getty

    Marvin's parents were church minister Marvin Gay Sr and domestic worker Alberta Gay (née Cooper).

    He grew up in a public housing project, the Fairfax Apartments, at 1617 1st Street SW in the Southwest Waterfront area, which was a vast slum at the time.

    Read more: Marvin Gaye's isolated vocals from 'I Heard it Through the Grapevine' will give you tingles

    Marvin was the second oldest of the couple's four children. He had two sisters, Jeanne and Zeola, and one brother, Frankie.

    He also had two half-brothers: Michael Cooper, his mother's son from a previous relationship, and Antwaun Carey Gay, who was the result of one of his father's affairs.

  3. When did Marvin Gaye get his start in music and join Motown?

    Marvin Gaye - Heard It Through The Grapevine (Live at Montreux)

    Before launching a solo career, Marvin Gaye joined The New Moonglows in the 1950s.

    They performed with established singers like Chuck Berry and had a huge hit with 'Sincerely'. Before this, he formed the group The Marquees with friend Reece Palmer.

    Marvin performed at Motown president Berry Gordy's house, who was impressed by the singer.

    He soon signed with Motown subsidiary Tamla. At first, he pursued a career as a jazz performer, and had no desire to become an R&B or soul singer.

    Marvin Gaye - Sexual Healing

    Among Marvin Gaye's most famous hits include 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine', 'Let's Get it On', 'What's Going On', 'Inner City Blues' and 'Mercy Mercy Me'.

    After several years away from the charts, he had a huge comeback in 1982 away from Motown with the album Midnight Love, and its lead single 'Sexual Healing'.

  4. Who was Marvin Gaye's wife and how many children did he have?

    Marvin Gaye and second wife Janis in 1977
    Marvin Gaye and second wife Janis in 1977. Picture: Getty

    Gaye married Anna Gordy in June 1963, before separating in 1973. The couple were officially divorced in 1977.

    He later married Janis Hunter in October 1977, but divorced in February 1981.

    Gaye was the father of three children: Marvin III (adopted with Anna, Marvin III was the son of Denise Gordy, Anna's niece), and Nona and Frankie, with his second wife, Janis.

    Marvin Gaye and children Frankie and Nona
    Marvin Gaye and children Frankie and Nona. Picture: Getty

    During the 1960s, it was debated that Gaye dated his female singing companions, such as Mary Wells and Kim Weston. Wells denied any romantic ties, and Weston said their relationship was platonic.

    The same went for his relationship with Tammi Terrell. Her death from a brain tumor in 1970 sent Gaye into a depression.

    Read more: Tammi Terrell - The tragic life story of a Motown singer and how Marvin Gaye never got over her death

    Gaye also dated Dutch model Eugenie Vis, and was involved with British socialite Lady Edith Foxwell during the early 1980s.

  5. How did Marvin Gaye die?

    Marvin Gaye
    Marvin Gaye. Picture: Getty

    The day before his 45th birthday, an argument between Marvin and his father Marvin Sr escalated into violence.

    The reasons behind the fight are unknown. Some say it was due to a decades-long period of abuse that he endured from his father.

    Read more: The tragic story of Marvin Gaye and the untimely death of a soul legend

    On the night of April 1, 1984, Marvin was shot twice. Marvin Sr died without any recollection of shooting his son.

    After a 6-year suspended sentence and a 5-year probation, he lived the rest of his life in nursing homes, and died aged 84 in 1998.

  6. Did Marvin Gaye play American Football in the NFL?

    During his hiatus from music, Marvin Gaye looked elsewhere, including professional football.

    At 31, he set out to become a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions.

    "You see, I had this fantasy: I was in the Super Bowl, with millions of people watching me on TV all over the world, as I made a spectacular leaping catch and sprinted for the winning touchdown," he said in his biography.

    However, Lions coach Joe Schmidt refused to let him try out for the team.