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Farewell Performance

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After a life marked by tears and pain, there was something tragically fitting about the death of Marvin Gaye, who was fatally shot by his father on April 1, 1984. A former singer in his father’s Pentecostal church, blessed with a smooth, sexy voice and an ear for hits — ”Hitch Hike,” ”Can I Get a Witness” — Gaye was one of America’s greatest, and most troubled, crossover stars.

A Motown mainstay of the ’60s, he spent the ’70s and early ’80s in a reclusive depression — haunted by the loss of his friend and duet partner Tammi Terrell, who died of a brain tumor in 1970, and tormented by two divorces, a multimillion-dollar IRS debt, and an attempted suicide by cocaine overdose.

But life seemed more hopeful by late 1983. A new label had produced a platinum album, Midnight Love, and a sinuous, double-Grammy single, ”Sexual Healing.” Just months before, Gaye had moved to his parents’ L. A. house to look after his ailing mother, Alberta, as well as to heal his relationship with his father, the Reverend Marvin Gay Sr., 70, a headstrong man who often clashed with his headstrong son. The singer (who added the ”e” to his name at the start of his career) said in 1984, ”I have just one father. I want to make peace with him.”

Instead, on the morning of April 1, the day before his 45th birthday, Marvin, who’d been using cocaine heavily since his return, heard his father shouting about a letter he had lost. The two began to push and shove each other. Gay left the room and returned with a .38-caliber revolver, which he fired twice, striking his son in the chest and shoulder. Marvin was declared dead at 1 p.m. at Los Angeles’ California Hospital Medical Center.

Gay plea-bargained to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to five years’ probation for his son’s death. He now lives quietly in suburban Los Angeles. (Alberta filed for divorce in June 1984 and died in 1987.) But even tragedy failed to bring peace between father and son. When asked during a jailhouse interview on the day of Marvin’s funeral whether he had loved his son, Gay stated coldly, ”Let’s say that I didn’t dislike him.”


Time Capsule: April 1, 1984
The Ewings of Dallas ruled TV, and singer Kenny Loggins cut ”Footloose.” Robert Ludlum’s The Aquitaine Progression was a best-seller, and Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner were Romancing the Stone.

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