‘Bad Blood’ Between Marvin Gaye And His Father Led To Motown Legend’s Murder

“I pulled the trigger,” Marvin Gay Sr. said, claiming the first bullet to strike his son “didn't seem to bother him.”

February 09, 2023
Soul singer Marvin Gaye poses for a portrait in circa 1974.

At the pinnacle of his success, Marvin Gaye was one of Motown’s most famous soul singers, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend would meet an early and tragic death — at the hand of his own father.

Photo by: Jim Britt via Getty Images

Jim Britt via Getty Images

By: Aaron Rasmussen

At the pinnacle of his success, Marvin Gaye was one of Motown’s most famous soul singers, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend would meet an early and tragic death — at the hand of his own father.

Gaye, who added the “e” to the end of his last name when he was becoming famous, started off singing in the church where his reportedly strict and controlling father, Marvin Gay Sr., was a minister.

The talented entertainer launched his career as a session drummer for musicians like Stevie Wonder and The Supremes, but his star quickly rose after he signed with Motown Records and started releasing hit after hit, beginning in the 1960s.

According to reports, Gaye’s Pentecostal reverend father resented his son’s astronomical success.

Compounding the “Heard It Through the Grapevine” performer’s problems, Gaye struggled after his duet partner, Tammi Terrell, passed away from a malignant brain tumor in 1970. He reportedly battled cocaine addiction and for a time fell into millions of dollars in debt due to tax issues and two failed marriages.

“You have to suffer to be an artist,” the “Sexual Healing” star once told The Los Angeles Times. “You can’t write about suffering in love if you haven’t done it. And let me tell you — I’ve done it!”

In 1983, Gaye made the fateful decision to live for a time with his mother, Alberta, and his then-retired father, Marvin Sr., in Los Angeles.

The following year, Bob Martin, a former lieutenant with the Los Angeles Police Department, said Gaye “became involved in a verbal dispute” with his 70-year-old father around 12:30 p.m. on April 1 and “that led to a physical altercation, pushing and shoving,” The New York Times reported.

Lt. Martin said Gaye’s mother attempted to intervene in the fight, but Marvin Sr. armed himself with a .38-caliber revolver and went to his son’s bedroom. He fired two bullets into Gaye’s chest.

The entertainer was rushed to the California Hospital Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 1:01 p.m.

According to Martin, an investigation determined there had been “some bad blood” between the father and son leading up to the fatal shooting.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner shortly after the slaying, Gay Sr. claimed he “didn’t mean to do it” and at the time believed the gun he used to shoot his son only contained blanks or harmless BBs.

“I pulled the trigger,” he said, claiming he acted in self-defense. “The first one didn't seem to bother him. He put his hand up to his face like he'd been hit with a BB. And then I fired again. I was backing up toward my room. I was going to go in there and lock the door.”

When Gay was asked in the interview if he loved his famous son, the father replied: “Let's say that I didn't dislike him.”

Marvin Sr. was originally charged with first-degree murder. In September 1984, he pleaded no contest after the charge was downgraded to voluntary manslaughter. A judge sentenced him that November to a six-year suspended sentence and placed him on five years of probation.

He died in a nursing home from pneumonia in October 1998 at age 83.

Gaye would have turned 45 the day after his father killed him.

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