From the Archives: Marvin Gaye, Top Soul Recording Artist, Shot


Grammy-winning soul singer Marvin Gaye, whose smooth and sexy delivery of such hits as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Sexual Healing” topped record-sales charts for more than 20 years, was shot and killed Sunday at the Crenshaw District home he shared with his parents.

His father, Marvin Gaye Sr., 71, a retired minister, was booked on suspicion of murder.

The singer, who would have celebrated his 45th birthday today, was taken by paramedics to California Hospital Medical Center, shot twice in the chest. His heart had stopped beating and resuscitation attempts failed, a hospital spokesman said. He was declared dead at 1:01 p.m.

Gaye, considered by popular music critics the peer of Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson among male rhythm-and-blues stars, was shot in an argument with the elder Gaye at the home in the 2100 block of South Gramercy Place.


The elder Gaye was taken into custody on the front lawn of his home shortly after the shooting, and after several hours of questioning was booked at Parker Center.

Police Lt. Bob Martin said the singer became involved in a verbal dispute with his father Saturday night. The argument resumed Sunday morning and about noon there was “some pushing and shoving” in an upstairs hallway, Martin said.

At that point Gaye’s mother, Alberta, 69, interceded in an effort to stop the fight, the detective said.

Gaye Sr., a retried minister of the House of God Church, subsequently armed himself with a five-shot, .38-caliber handgun, came back upstairs and opened fire on his son in the younger man’s bedroom, Martin said.

Martin said police arrived to find several neighbors gathered in the front yard and inside the house. A revolver believed to be the weapon used in the shooting was found in the front yard.

Martin said the interior of the Victorian dwelling was in a somewhat disordered state, and “it was a little difficult to tell whether or not an altercation had occurred in there.”


Martin said interviews with members of the family and with neighbors indicated there had been considerable dissension between the two men in the past.

“As best we can tell, there has been some bad blood (between the father and the son),” Martin said.

Larkin Arnold, senior vice president of CBS Records, which produced Gaye’s final recordings, expressed shock at the singer’s death.

“We are deeply saddened,” he said. “Marvin was one of the true musical geniuses of our time,” Arnold said of the soul singer, whose career, although it had had ups and downs, seemed to be on an upswing in recent months.

By late afternoon, the crowd in front of the Gaye residence—swelled by fans who had heard of the singer’s death in radio news bulletins had to be restrained by police.


Audrey Addison, who lives about a block away, said she used to go by the house and talk to Gaye’s mother on the porch.

“They were very nice people,” she said, “and good neighbors. I have never heard any commotion there . . . people in the neighborhood just mind their own business.”

All seemed to agree that the Gaye household was a quiet one.

The singer’s parents had lived in the two-story, brick-front home for 12 years. Some neighbors said Marvin had moved in with his parents when he returned three years ago from a prolonged stay in Europe, but other family friends said the singer “just stayed there sometimes.”

In a recent interview, Gaye said he did not really live anywhere in particular.

“I live nowhere,” he said. “Why should I have a country? Why should I have that boundary? The world is my country. I’m a gypsy. I belong everywhere. . . .”

It was a sample of pure Gaye; he was an ego and he was an artist — and he gloried in both.

“I’m egotistical,” he said in a 1982 interview, “I could lie and pretend that I’m very humble but that’s jive. You can’t do what I’m doing and not have a big ego to feed.”

Yet he considered himself a recluse:

“The world,” he said recently, “isn’t ready for the real Marvin Gaye.”

And he insisted on being accepted as an artist.

“I don’t really care about money or business,” he explained. “I’m an artist, not a commercialist. They want you to make albums all the time, but I can only work when I’m move to do it. After I’ve worked, it takes me a long time to replenish the energy I’ve used up.”


His style earned the imprint of gospel singing, and it was both legitimate and ironic; Gaye’s first solos were sung in the choir of his father’s Washington, D.C., church when he was 3 years old.

“My family was real religious,” he told an interviewer. “My daddy was a minister and so when I began to sing it was for him, in church. Gospel? I was born in the middle of all that . . .”

His first professional experience came with a vocal group called the Moonglows, headed by Harvey Fuqua, with whom he traveled the R&B circuit in the late 1950s, but he said it was not “too satisfying. Like I said — I got a lot of ego.”

So after a year or two, Gaye decided to try his luck as a soloist — and almost from the first, that luck was good.

His travels took him to Detroit where he attended a party at which Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. was also a guest.

Gaye performed informally during the evening, Gordy liked it, asked him to “come around the office” the following day — and the rest of the story became almost too well-known to repeat.


He worked for a while as a session drummer for Motown, playing for several early hits by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, but his destiny was as a vocalist and in 1962 his first bit hit, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” scored big on the R&B charts.

Gaye followed it in 1963 with “Hitch Hike” and “Pride and Joy,” both major hits, the latter reaching the No. 1 sport, and kept going with a dozen more Top 40 songs.

His next year was even more impressive: solo successes such as “You Are a Wonderful One,” “Try It, Baby” and “Baby, Don’t You Do It” were matched by the success of “Can I Get a Witness.” “Once Upon a Time” and “What’s the Matter With You, Baby?” in which he was teamed with Motown vocalist Mary Wells.

This was followed by such hits as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” “I’ll Be Doggone” (with Smokey Robinson), “One More Heartache,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t That Peculiar,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (the 1968 hit that many considered his greatest single) and an album.

He also showed skill as a composer, co-authoring “Dancing in the Streets,” and as a writer-producer with the Originals, cutting “Baby, I’m for Real” in 1969.

By the mid-’60s, many of Gaye’s songs were beginning to show up on the national charts and he also was fulfilling a strenuous schedule of personal appearances on many college campuses and at major night spots.


He was married for a time to Anna Gordy, Berry Gordy’s sister, but this ended in divorce in 1976. Anna received $600,000 in royalties from Gaye who promptly used the incident as inspiration for “Here My Dear,” a 71-minute musical recounting of the breakup which generated far more gossip than sales.

He said he also once tried to kill himself by ingesting more than an ounce of pure cocaine while in Hawaii after the breakup of a second marriage — to Janie Hunger. But he survived, and later told friends he “used it all, the bad stuff and the good, in the music.”

In addition to teaming with Mary Wells, Gaye also had singing partnerships with three other women: Kim Weston, Diana Ross and Tami Terrell — who collapsed in his arms on stage in 1967 and died three years later after a series of operations for a brain tumor.

The late 1970s saw a brief decline in his fortunes and he declared bankruptcy at one point (just a jump ahead of the Internal Revenue Service, which said he owed $2 million in back taxes) and spent the end of the decade in self-imposed European exile.

Other big hits from his career that became soul standards included “What’s Goin’ On” and “Mercy, Mercy Me.” Gaye won two Grammy Awards in 1983, one for the “comeback” hit “Sexual Healing,” which was the standout cut from the album “Midnight Love.” He was nominated for another Grammy this year.

“You have to suffer to be an artist,” he said in an interview with The Times last year. “You can’t write about suffering in love if you haven’t done it. And let me tell you — I’ve done it!”


Also contributing to this story were Times staff writers Penelope McMillan, Dean Murphy and Marc Igler.


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