HE was a soul legend who used his sex symbol status to spread messages of peace and love through music.
But Marvin Gaye died a brutal death at the hands of his own father – shot at point blank range in the bedroom of their Los Angeles home.
It was the tragic finale to a tempestuous relationship between the singer and his cross-dressing minister father, Marvin Sr, who frequently beat his son, starved his children and abused his wife.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of What’s Going On, the iconic protest album set against a backdrop of the Vietnam war and race riots throughout the US.
The album was released on May 21, 1971, against the wishes of Motown boss Berry Gordy Jr, who hated its political overtones, but is now considered one of the most important musical works of the 20th century.
It also marked the high point of 25-year Marvin Gaye’s career – which went hand in hand withwomanising, drug addiction and increasing paranoia, and ended with in tragedy a day before his 45th birthday.
Here we look at the tragic life and brutal death of one of soul’s greatest icons.
Unwanted and unloved by dad
Marvin Sr was a preacher at the Hebrew Pentecostal Church in Washington, D.C and a member of the strict House of God Christian sect, which banned sleeveless dresses, open-toed shoes, make-up, films and TV.
When he married 20-year-old Alberta Cooper, in 1935, she was already a young mum but, refusing to bring up another man’s child, he forced her to send baby Michael to live with her sister.
The couple went on to have four children together, with Marvin Jr the second to be born, in 1939.
The animosity towards his oldest son began before he was born, according to Alberta.
“My husband never wanted Marvin, and he never liked him,” she said.
“He used to say he didn’t think he was really his child. I told him that was nonsense. He knew Marvin was his.
“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.”
Beaten and starved to be 'closer to God'
Despite his rigid religious beliefs, Marvin Sr was an excessive drinker and womaniser, who had countless extra-marital affairs and fathered a child with another woman behind Alberta’s back.
He also loved wearing women’s clothes and shoes.
But it was the violent outbursts and brutality towards his children that had the most profound effect on Marvin.
The four children were forced to quote bible verses at will, and would be severely beaten if they got them wrong – and Marvin got the lion’s share of the abuse.
His older sister Jeanne said that from the age of seven and through his teens Marvin’s life was a “series of brutal whippings”.
He also withheld food from his children, claiming their hunger would bring them “closer to God”.
Marvin told his biographer, David Ritz: “Living with Father was like living with a king – an all-cruel, changeable and all-powerful king”.
Marvin Jr’s closeness to his mother infuriated his tyrannical father, who would punish Alberta for giving any attention to her son and even accused the pair of having an incestuous relationship.
When Marvin’s singing talent began to be noticed, his father refused to support any ambitions to enter the music industry while Alberta quietly encouraged him.
“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,” Marvin told David Ritz.
Affairs with teens and adopted son
At 17, Marvin ran away from home and joined the US air force but after a few months, he faked mental illness to get discharged.
On his return to Washington, he joined a vocal group and began getting work as a backing singer before signing with Tamla Motown – home of The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson – in 1960.
At the same time he added an ‘e’ to his original surname of Gay – to shut down any speculation about his sexuality and to distance himself from his abusive dad.
Over the next few years Marvin had number 1 solos, including Ain’t That Peculiar, and a string of hit duets with Tammi Terrell, such as Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and You’re All I Need to Get By.
A marriage to Anna Gordy, sister of Motown founder Berry, cemented his relationship with the record label in 1963.
Friends commented the 35-year-old, who was 11 years his senior, reminded him of his mother but Marvin was soon indulging in affairs with much younger women.
When her 16-year-old niece, Denise Gordy, fell pregnant, Anna faked a pregnancy and the couple adopted her son, Marvin III, to avoid a scandal.
The singer was suspected of being the biological father but this has never been confirmed.
However, his affair with another teenager, 17-year-old Janis Hunter, ended his marriage in 1973. Four years later he wed Janis.
Drug dependency and abusive marriage
As Gaye’s fame grew, so did his dependence on drugs and his increasingly erratic behaviour.
On one occasion, while high on coke, he told Janis to join in a threesome with another couple while he watched, then cruelly taunted her afterwards, calling her an “animal on heat.”
She also claimed that after she had their two children – Nona and Frankie – he complained about her stretch marks and sagging breasts, even though she was only 22.
The marriage ended after two years, when his abuse turned physical.
“He took a kitchen knife and put it to my throat,” Janis wrote in her book, After The Dance. “I was petrified, paralyzed. I thought it was all over.”
Marvin told her: “I’ve loved you too much. This love is killing me. I beg you to provoke me. Provoke me right now so I can take us both out of our misery.”
Shortly afterwards, he tried to kill himself by swallowing almost 30g of pure cocaine while on a binge in Hawaii.
Debt and depression
Increasingly dependent on drugs, Marvin was heavily in debt, owing £3million in US taxes and £425,000 to Anna Gordy as part of their divorce settlement, and was reduced to living in an old bread delivery van.
The singer fled to Belgium as a tax exile and managed to kick his cocaine habit before releasing the 1982 comeback single Sexual Healing, returning to the US a year later for a triumphant tour.
But his homecoming reignited his love affair with drugs and, after buying his parents a mansion in Los Angeles, he moved in to battle his addiction.
He was also increasingly paranoid, hiring bodyguards and wearing a bulletproof vest on stage, while telling his siblings "I’m going to die…I’ll be poisoned or shot dead."
Ironically, it was the relationship with his father which was to end his days. Living under the same roof, the pair was so volatile that his sister moved out to escape the rows.
Marvin was depressed and suicidal, attempting to kill himself at least once.
On the night of April 1, 1984, Marvin Sr flew into a rage at Alberta over some lost insurance papers and Marvin, who was shielding his mother in his bedroom, lashed out, punching and kicking his father.
A few moments later Marvin Sr calmly walked back into the bedroom holding a .38 revolver – a Christmas present from his son – and shot him twice in the chest.
“My husband didn’t say anything, he just pointed the gun at Marvin," said Alberta.
"I screamed, but it was very quick. My husband shot – and Marvin screamed. I tried to run. Marvin slid down to the floor after the first shot.”
The singer was pronounced dead at a hospital less than an hour later.
His brother Frankie, who lived next door, was holding him as he died and claimed his last words were: “I got what I wanted… I couldn’t do it myself, so I made him do it."
In court, Marvin Sr claimed he acted in self-defence, saying: “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 given a six-year suspended sentence. He died in 1998.
The title track on the seminal album, What’s Going On, pleads: “Father, Father. We don’t need to escalate,” and begs: “Don't punish me with brutality.”
Tragically, while his message of peace lives on, Marvin Gaye’s own life was cut short by the savage brutality of a cruel father.
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