Marvin Gaye was a sex symbol with peace and love messages in his songs. His life, however, was a far cry compared to what he preached in his lyrics.
The soul legend lived a life of abuse, drug addiction, starvation, betrayal, and an endless fight with his father — who shot him dead.
Marvin Gaye’s father, Marvin Sr was a minister at the Hebrew Pentecostal Church in Washington, D.C, and a member of the strict House of God Christian sect.
The preacher married the 20-years-old Alberta and the couple had together four children, with Marvin Jr being the second born in 1939.
From an early age, Marvin Sr never bothered to hide his animosity against Marvin Jr. Alberta shared at the time that her husband never really wanted nor liked Marvin Jr:
“But for some reason, he didn’t love Marvin, and what’s worse, he didn’t want me to love Marvin either. Marvin wasn’t very old before he understood that.”
Despite being an orthodox religious man, Marvin Sr was a heavy drinker, unfaithful to his wife, with a collection of extramarital affairs, including a child with another woman outside his marriage.
Among his gruesome behavior, Marvin Sr discounted his violence on his offspring. According to Gaye’s sister, the soul singer’s early ages up until teenagehood was a “series of brutal whipping.”
The man would force his four children to recite bible verses at will and if they’d got any wrong, the preacher beat them.
He wouldn’t approve of Marvin’s close relationship with his mother and even accused mother and son of having an incestuous relationship. He’d even punish Alberta for that.
Alberta was the most important person to Marvin Gaye when it came to supportiveness. The singer shared with the author of his biography:
“If it wasn’t for mother who was always there to console me and praise me for my singing, I think I would have been one of those child suicides you read about in the papers.”
Throughout his tough childhood, Marvin often found music to be his escape. He mastered the piano and drums at a young age and sang at church revivals.
His unique vocal style impressed Berry Gordy Jr., the Mowtown Records founder. It took Marvin, however, a few years until he struck his first hit, but until then, he’d collect a number of sessions with Stevie Wonder and The Supremes.
He finally made it into the Top 40 in 1962 with the solo single “Hitch Hike.” Throughout the 1960s, he partnered up in duets and collaborations with legends such as Diana Ross and Mary Wells. His best-selling single for the decade was “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
Over the next few years, his rise to stardom came with number one solos such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in a duet with Tammi Terrel and “You’re All I Need to Get By.”
In 1975, he got married to Berry Gordy’s sister, Anna Gordy, 11 years his senior. Following his father’s womanizer steps, according to close friends, Marvin would engage in affairs with much younger women.
His marriage to Anna didn’t last long. Two years after filing for divorce, Marvin wed the 17-years-old Janis Hunter. The singer’s marriage to Hunter proved short-lived and tumultuous, ending in divorce in 1981.
There were claims of physical abuse and emotional abuse. Hunter shared in her book, “After The Dance” her traumatic experience:
“He took a kitchen knife and put it to my throat. I was petrified, paralyzed. I thought it was all over.”
Shortly after that, Marvin attempted suicide. He swallowed almost 30g of pure cocaine while on a binge in Hawaii, which was just the beginning of his fall.
Drug addiction, depression and debt marked the upcoming years of Marvin’s life. The singer fled to Belgium owning millions in US taxes and money on his divorce settlement with Anna Gordy.
Marvin managed to make a triumphant comeback to stardom with the hit “Sexual Healing.” He returned to the US and made a highly successful tour around the country.
But being back in the spotlight made the singer felt off the wagon and reignited his drug addiction. He also started to get paranoid and hired bodyguards and wore a bulletproof vest on stage.
Marvin bought a mansion in Los Angeles for his parents and moved in with them. This was, however, not the best move for a depressed, suicidal, and addicted Marvin Gaye.
His relationship with his father fired up to a point that on the night of April 1, 1984, something tragic happened. Marvin and Alberta had a fight. Marvin got his mother and brought her to his room, shielding her from his father’s rage.
Then, it was just a matter of time for the tragedy. Marvin Sr walked back to his bedroom and picked his .38 revolver — ironically, a Christmas gift from his son — and without saying a word, he shot Marvin twice on the chest.
His brother Frankie hold Marvin in his arms before his death and said that his last words were that he got what he wanted. The singer was taken to the hospital but was pronounced dead less than an hour later.
Marvin Sr was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and given a six-year suspended sentence. He died in 1998. In his defense, Marvin’s father declared that he acted out of self-defense because he was afraid of his son.
Marvin Gaye’s political overtone and messages of peace and love in his lyrics still live on. The iconic “What’s Going On” was written about the Vietnam War.
Moreover, in this song, the singer put personal touch — and some might say a cry for help — pleading: “Father, Father. We don’t need to escalate. Don’t punish me with brutality.”