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

27 March 2024, 10:15

Marvin Gaye in 1974
Marvin Gaye in 1974. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Marvin Gaye was one of the greatest soul singers of all time, but his life and career were cut tragically short in 1984, aged just 44.

40 years on, we take a look back at the great man, and exactly what happened with Marvin Gaye and his father.

  1. Who was Marvin Gaye?

    Marvin Gaye - Sexual Healing (Video)

    Marvin Gaye was an American singer, songwriter and producer.

    He was one of the main singers that created the Motown sound of the 1960s, first as a session performer and later as a solo artist. His Motown hits included 'How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)' and 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine', and duets with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Diana Ross and Tammi Terrell.

    In the 1970s, he recorded the albums What's Going On and Let's Get It On, becoming one of the first artists from Motown (along with Stevie Wonder) to break away from the company on his own merit.

    After a period in Europe as a tax exile in the early 1980s, he made a successful comeback with the 1982 Grammy Award-winning hit 'Sexual Healing' and its album Midnight Love.

  2. Marvin Gaye death: What happened?

    Marvin Gaye was fatally shot by his father, Marvin Gay Sr, on April 1, 1984, at their home in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, California.

    The singer was shot twice, following an argument with his father after he intervened in an altercation between his parents.

    He was pronounced dead on arrival at the California Hospital Medical Center.

    His death inspired many musical tributes over the years. He was given a burial plot at Forest Lawn Cemetery, and was later cremated and his ashes spread around the Pacific Ocean.

  3. Who was Marvin Gay, Sr?

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

    Marvin Gaye's father was an American Pentecostal minister.

    He married his wife, Alberta Cooper, in 1935. Alberta already had a son named Michael, but after saying he couldn't raise another man's son, Gay sent Michael to live with his sister-in-law.

    They had several children: daughter Jeanne, Marvin Jr, son Frankie and daughter Zeola. Gay also fathered a son named Antwaun Carey, with another woman following one of his extramarital affairs.

    Gay was described as a strict father to his four children. According to his kids, Gay would make them observe an extended Sabbath, every Saturday. He was against the Christian tradition of attending church on Sundays.

    Gay also would question his kids on Biblical passages, and would beat them if they answered wrong.

    Marvin reportedly suffered the worst of his punishments. Jeanne said that from the age of seven and into his teenage years, Marvin's life was full of "brutal whippings".

    Marvin later said that "living with Father was like living with a king, an all-cruel, changeable, cruel and all-powerful king".

  4. Why did Marvin Gaye's father shoot him?

    Marvin Gay, Sr in court
    Marvin Gay, Sr in court. Picture: Getty

    In the days just before his death, Marvin Gaye's parents had arguments over a misplaced insurance policy letter.

    The day before his death, arguments had spread to Gaye's bedroom. Angered by his father shouting at his mother, Gaye told Marvin Sr to leave her alone.

    At around 12.30pm, on April 1, 1984, Marvin Sr shouted at his wife about the document. Marvin, dressed in a bathrobe, shouted back downstairs, telling his father if he had something to say, he should do it in person.

    According to Alberta, when Marvin Sr refused, Gaye warned him not to come to his room. However, his father charged upstairs to the bedroom to shout at Alberta, causing Gaye to jump out of his bed.

    When ordering him to leave did not work, Gaye is said to have shoved his father out of the room, and began to kick and punch him. Alberta later told Ritz: "Marvin hit him. I shouted for him to stop, but he paid no attention to me. He gave my husband some hard kicks."

    Minutes after being separated, Marvin Sr entered his bedroom, and returned with a .38 pistol his son had bought him, pointed the gun at Gaye, and shot him directly in the heart.

    "I was standing about eight feet away from Marvin, when my husband came to the door of the bedroom with his pistol," said Alberta. "My husband didn't say anything, he just pointed the gun at Marvin. I screamed but it was very quick. He, my husband, shot – and Marvin screamed. I tried to run. Marvin slid down to the floor after the first shot."

  5. What happened to Marvin Gaye's father?

    Marvin Sr was quoted as saying at the time: "I didn't mean to do it."

    He pleaded no contest to a voluntary manslaughter charge on September 20, 1984. On November 2, 1984, Judge Gordon Ringer sentenced him to a six-year suspended sentence and five years of probation.

    He tearfully 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."

    Health issues forced him to move to a nursing home. He died of pneumonia on October 10, 1998, nine days after his 84th birthday.