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Marvin Gaye’s tough upbringing and tragic death at the hands of his father

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Prince of Motown, Marvin Gaye’s recording career was cut short at the hands of his father, who shot him dead after the singer tried to step in during an argument. His former wife, Janis, survived the inspiring songwriter by almost 40 years, but what happened to Marvin Gaye, the Prince of Soul, who was his father, and his untimely death?

Marvin Gaye’s death came one day before his 45th birthday, when he was shot and killed by his own father on April 1, 1984.

His life came to a tragic end following a conflict with his dad which stemmed from his tough childhood, writes History. Before his 25-year music career, which saw him send Motown into new heights in the industry, the star had a turbulent relationship with his father Marvin Gay Snr.

Marvin Gaye’s death – shot and killed by his own father

Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns

The soul singer’s cause of death was listed as a ‘gunshot wound to chest perforating heart, lung and liver’. However, the critical injuries came came at the hands of his father, Marvin Gay Snr.

Reports claim Marvin Snr envied his son’s twinkling success, and the star held unresolved issues following a tough upbringing.

In late 1983, Marvin Jnr moved into the home of his father and his wife Alberta, based in Los Angeles. It came during a low point of his career, only a year on from his first Grammy success. However, at the time, he was struggling with debts, depression and cocaine use.

After a row broke out between the pair, it escalated into a physical fight on that fateful morning. Alberta was attempting to calm Marvin down when Gay Snr brandished a revolver and shot him twice in the chest.

The singer’s brother, Frankie, lived next door, held Marvin Jnr until he gave out his final breath. He later penned in his autobiography on what were Marvin Gaye’s haunting final words.

“I got what I wanted…. I couldn’t do it myself, so I made him do it.”

Who was Marvin Gaye’s father?

Clergyman Marvin Gaye, Sr. breaks down in court as he is sentenced for the shooting of his son soul singer Marvin Gaye, Jr. Gaye was placed on five years probation.

Marvin Snr was a minister at the Hebrew Pentecostal Church, based in Washington, DC. He was also a member of the strict House of God Christian Sect.

Marvin Snr met Alberta Cooper, then 20, in 1935, and they went on to have four children together.

The Sun reports Alberta had a young son, Michael, at the time of their wedding, but he was sent to live with her sister.

Marvin Jnr was the second-born of their four kids, he came into the world in 1939. However, Alberta later said he “never liked him” and claimed Marvin Snr would have doubts Jnr was “his”.

She explained: “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.”

Amid the broken family dynamic, Marvin Snr’s children also claimed he would have violent outbursts and would beat them, forcing them to recite bible verses. Jeanne, the eldest of the four siblings, said Marvin’s life from middle school to his teens were a “series of brutal whippings”.

Marvin told his biographer, David Ritz: “Living with Father was like living with a king – an all-cruel, changeable and all-powerful king”.

Envious of his success

After Marvin Jnr found success, and signed to Motown, his father didn’t encourage his journey into stardom or any of his aspirations. However, his mother Alberta continued to support him behind Marvin Snr’s back.

The star also told his biographer: “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.”

His path to fame began early on in his life. Marvin Jnr ran away from home at 17, joined the US Air Force and faked mental illness to be discharged. From there, he joined a singing group as a backup performer. By 1960, he was signed with Tamla Motown, alongside greats like Stevie Wonder and The Supremes.

He also added an ‘e’ to the end of his surname to prevent speculation over his sexuality.

Soon enough, his music began to hit the charts. He was known for Ain’t No Mountain High enough, Ain’t That Peculiar and You’re All I Need to Get By.

However, the soul singer later became dependent on drugs and owed millions in US taxes. His comeback was successful in 1982, with the hit single Sexual Healing, and toured the following year. Despite his efforts on piecing his life back together, his estate was in debt by approximately $9 million at the time of his death.

What happened to Marvin Gaye’s father after he shot him?

Marvin Gay Snr claimed he acted in self defense in court.

He said: “If I could bring him back, I would. I was afraid of him. I thought I was going to get hurt. I’m really sorry for everything that happened. I loved him.”

He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and handed a six-year suspended sentence. Marvin Gay Snr later died in 1998, aged 84.

The Independent reports he died in hospital after contracting pneumonia. Before his death, he lived in a retirement home in Long Beach, based in California.

Marvin Gay Snr’s death came 14 years after he shot his son dead at home.

His mother, Alberta, passed away in 1987, aged 74. Alberta died following a battle with bone cancer at Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

Marvin Gaye’s wife Janis dies almost 40 years after he was shot

In 1963, the singer tied the knot with Motown founder Berry’s sister, Anna Gordy. They adopted the son of his 16-year-old niece, who fell pregnant as a teenager. Anna pretended to carry the child, and they named him Marvin III.

However, he later had an affair with 17-year-old Janis and Marvin Jnr and Anna split up in 1973. Four years later, Janis officially became Marvin Gaye’s wife. They later shared two children, Nona and Frankie. The pair later split up after two years of marriage.

She became the inspiration of several songs of Marvin Jnr’s success. It was claimed his album, I Want You was a “romantic” tribute to Janis.

Janis Hunter Gaye, Marvin’s second wife, aged 66, died on December 3, 2022, her family announced. She passed away at her home in Rhode Island on Saturday, but a cause of death has not been disclosed publicly.

Her death comes after Gaye’s album, What’s Going On, was re-released this summer to mark 50 years since the initial release.

If you are affected by any issues raised in the article or would like someone to speak to, please call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. You can also email them at [email protected] or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch in the UK. In the US, please visit Samaritans USA for more information.

You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741741 to get in touch with the Crisis Text Line. Americans can now call or text 988 to reach out and speak to a counselor.

Furthermore, please contact American Addiction Centers on (877) 686-7688 or Talk To Frank on 0300 123 6600 in the UK.

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Lottie is the Head of Audience for Entertainment and Gaming, working with the teams on HITC, Reality Titbit, The Focus and Freshered. She is passionate about news being accessible to everyone, and focuses on bringing audiences quality content that they enjoy. She loves the art of storytelling, whether that be news, movies or heavy hardback fiction.

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