April 1, 1984: Marvin Gaye Killed By His Father

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Marvin Gaye in 1973

It was beyond shocking. We’d all grown accustomed to the senseless deaths of our musical heroes, but murder—the most prominent incident, of course, having been the assassination of John Lennon—was very rare.

So to learn that Marvin Gaye, the beloved soul star, had been shot dead was dreadful news indeed. To then find out that the shooter had been his own father, Marvin Gay Sr. (he’d kept the original spelling of the surname), was horrifying.

It happened at the home they shared in the West Adams section of Los Angeles. According to police reports, Gay Sr. and his wife, Alberta, had been arguing when the son intervened. The younger Marvin Gaye was not in a good way. Although he’d recently had a huge comeback hit with “Sexual Healing” and the Midnight Love album and had been touring behind the records, he’d gone back to using cocaine and had become paranoid—according to some reports he’d even taken to wearing a bulletproof vest. The tour was also rocked by the hanging suicide of a member of the road crew.

Watch a video report on Marvin Gaye’s funeral

When Gaye returned to the family home, where his mother was recovering from kidney surgery, his father was not around much at first. When he did return, the two Marvins often argued, with the father even calling the police at one point to have the singer forced out of the house, a house that the younger Marvin had bought for his folks. One of Marvin junior’s sisters later said that their father had threatened him, a situation exacerbated by the singer’s growing mental issues—he often refused even to leave his room and reportedly spoke of suicide.

Related: BCB’s review of a must-read Motown book

Marvin Gay Sr.

In the days immediately preceding the killing, the tension within the home escalated. On the afternoon of April 1, 1984, the parents argued over an insurance policy, and Marvin Gaye attempted to cool things down. He had had enough of the bickering. But his father was having none of it and the two men fought. Marvin shoved and kicked his father during the argument, causing Alberta to attempt to separate the two.

Marvin Sr. left his son’s room, walked into his own bedroom, retrieved the .38 pistol that the singer had given him for protection, and shot Marvin Gaye once in the heart. He was pronounced dead about a half hour later, and the world lost one of its most compelling artists. He was 44.

Marvin Gaye’s funeral attracted 10,000 people, mostly fans. Fellow celebrities, including former Motown labelmates Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, attended. Gay Sr. told the court that he wished he hadn’t done what he did, and received a six-year suspended sentence. He died in 1998, 14 years after his son.

Related: The U.S.P.S. will issue a Marvin Gaye “Forever” stamp on April 2

Watch Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” video

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