*Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his own father on this day in 1984, one day before his 45th birthday.
Marvin Sr., a Christian minister who was described as a strict disciplinarian and abusive to his children, reportedly told his daughter Jeanne that if Marvin ever touched him, he’d “kill him.” The two had a contentious relationship for most of Gaye’s life. Marvin Sr. was a known crossdresser in his Washington D.C. neighborhood and Marvin was teased and bullied for it throughout his childhood. Gaye’s father never approved of his career in secular music and deeply resented that his son had a closer relationship with his mother, Alberta.
In the months leading up to his death, Marvin was said to be suicidal, even attempting to jump out of his sister’s moving car at one point. Gaye’s brother Frankie, who lived next door and heard the shots, held his famous brother as he said his last words. “I got what I wanted… I couldn’t do it myself, so I had him do it… it’s good, I ran my race, there’s no more left in me,” he said, according to Frankie. Gaye’s sister Jeanne later said in an interview that Marvin deliberately fought his father, knowing full well that he had threatened to kill him if he ever did. Forcing his father’s hand in the murder, Jeanne said, allowed Marvin to accomplish three things. “He put himself out of his misery. He brought relief to Mother by finally getting her husband out of her life. And he punished Father, by making certain that the rest of his life would be miserable… my brother knew just what he was doing.”
There were reportedly brief flashes of peace between the Marvin and his father, particularly after the success of Gaye’s masterful socio-political album “What’s Goin’ On” in 1971. The video below captured one of their rare moments of détente and includes conversation about the time Gaye tried out for the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Read all about that here.
Marvin Gaye and his dad, Marvin Sr.
Shortly before 12:30 p.m. on April 1, 1984, Gaye warned his father not to enter his mother’s room at his parents’ home in Los Angeles. The two were in a heated argument about misplaced insurance documents and Marvin Sr. was threatening to confront Alberta about it face to face.
Despite Gaye’s warnings, Marvin Sr. charged toward her bedroom door anyway, prompting Gaye to physically shove his dad out of the room and into the hallway before punching and kicking him. After the beating, Marvin Sr. reportedly retrieved his Smith & Wesson .38 special pistol, which Gaye had given to his father for Christmas months earlier so that he could defend the home from intruders. Marvin Sr. shot his son in the shoulder, then stood over him and fired a second shot from point blank range into his chest.
Gaye was pronounced dead on arrival at the California Hospital Medical Center.
Entertainment Tonight reports on Marvin Gaye’s death
Marvin Sr. was sentenced to six years of probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter. Charges of first-degree murder were dropped after doctors discovered that he had a brain tumor.
Marvin Gaye Sr.’s attorney talks about his brain tumor
Gaye’s star-studded open-casket funeral on April 5, 1984 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale was attended by over 10,000 mourners, including his Motown colleagues; his two ex-wives, Anna Gaye and Janis Gaye; and his siblings, mother and three children.
Gaye was laid out in a gold and white military style uniform with an ermine wrap at his shoulder, an outfit from his final concert tour in 1983.
Smokey Robinson and Dick Gregory delivered eulogies, and Stevie Wonder performed “Lighting Up the Candles.”
Gaye was given a burial plot at Forest Lawn, but was later cremated per his family’s request. Half of his ashes were spread near the Pacific Ocean by his three children and Anna Gaye. Anna and their adopted son, Marvin III, also kept a small sample of the ashes for themselves.
Gaye’s death inspired a number of musical tributes in the years after the tragedy. Just seven months after his death, Diana Ross released the song “Missing You” from her album “Swept Away” in honor of her friend and Motown colleague. The video featured footage of Gaye at her 1982 concert in Brussels.
Also in November 1984, Teena Marie released the tribute song, “My Dear Mr. Gaye” from her album, “Starchild,” the highest selling album of her career.
The same year, The Commodores released “Nightshift,” which honored both Gaye and Jackie Wilson, who also died in 1984. It was featured on their album of the same name.
Ross hosted the “American Music Awards” the following January and led the “In Memoriam” segment honoring stars who died in 1984. Gaye led the tribute.
In 1989, Frankie Beverly & Maze released “Silky Soul,” with a melody inspired by “What’s Going On” and Nona Gaye, Marvin’s daughter with second wife Janis, featured in the video.
Gaye’s music was also honored in songs released from his family members. His brother Frankie signed with Motorcity Records and recorded two singles, “Extraordinary Girl” and “My Brother” in 1990.
On the live-stage side, Marvin’s lil sis, Zeola Gaye produced the hit play, “My Brother Marvin.”
Meanwhile, Nona Gaye went on to launch a recording career of her own in 1992. During the three years that she dated and collaborated with Prince, the pair delivered the below cover of “Inner City Blues” for Prince’s VH1 special “Love 4 One Another” in early 1996. The track was produced by Me’Shell NdegéOcello and The Revolution’s Wendy Melvoin, who also played guitar on the track with Revolution bandmate and longtime collaborator Lisa Coleman on keyboards. Prince’s Paisley Park provided the backdrop for the visual.
Marvin Gaye’s legacy lives on as many institutions have posthumously bestowed him with awards and other honors including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and inductions into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, among many others. In the last 2 years he’s been honored by the US Postal service with a stamp and a post office named after him in Los Angeles. For more on Marvin Gaye, visit his Wikipedia page.