Musical comeback and personal problems
Marvin Gaye performing in concert during the 1970s.
Marvin Gaye was at, in his own words, a low personal ebb when he reached the shores of Ostend in February 1981. After rising to the top of the pop charts in the 1960s and 1970s as an artist for the Motown Records label, Gaye had struggled with several albums and had sometimes cancelled, postponed or abruptly departed from concerts despite owing a heavy debt to the IRS. At the time Gaye began his exile from the United States in 1980, the singer owed the IRS up to $8 million in debt. Several concerts were created to alleviate the debt, which shortened to $4 million by the time Gaye announced a musical revival. After Motown released his final album with the label, In Our Lifetime, Gaye had requested to leave the label, finally settling for a multi-million dollar offer from CBS Records. The deal helped to temporarily heal Gaye’s struggling finances. Having found sobriety while in Ostend, the singer felt refreshed enough to record a new album. In September of 1982, “Sexual Healing” was released and quickly brought Gaye back on top hitting the top ten in several countries and winning Gaye two Grammy Awards. Its parent album, Midnight Love, also became an international success.
Gaye then announced a U.S. tour to promote the album that started in April 1983. However, Gaye had been reluctant to return to the United States. Reports stated his return to his native country was due to his mother recovering from a stroke while in surgery for bone cancer. Struggling to deal with pressure from promoters and his hatred for live performances, Gaye returned to drugs. In August 1983, the tour wrapped up in Los Angeles and Gaye retreated to the home he had bought for his mother. According to family, things were peaceful enough though Gaye struggled to come to terms with his drug abuse. In October of the year, Gaye’s father Marvin Gay, Sr., an ex-minister who reportedly had physically abused Gaye and his three siblings growing up in Washington, D.C., moved back in the house. Gaye had learned prior to his father’s arrival that he was in the beginnings of selling Marvin’s childhood home, something that angered both Gaye and his mother, since he didn’t contact either of them about it. While at Gramercy, Gaye rarely left his room without wearing a maroon robe and carrying a pistol and a BB gun in his pockets. Gaye struggled with paranoia and during his last tour he had hired a group of bodyguards to watch out for potential killers. Gaye was reportedly spooked by the death of musical contemporary John Lennon and a few years before, a report stated that someone had poisoned Gaye’s drink while attending a party. In December 1983, Gaye gave his father a .38 pistol as a Christmas present to protect him.
Marvin Gay, Sr. at his sentencing hearing following the shooting of his son, September 1984.
On March 31, 1984, Marvin’s parents had a domestic argument over misplaced business documents while Marvin, ill from drug use, lay in bed. Upon hearing this, he woke up and told his dad to leave his mother alone, though neither man physically attacked the other. The next day, April 1, the arguments started again.
Marvin’s brother Frankie and his wife, Irene, were next door when Irene heard the shots. When Irene rushed outside, she saw Marvin’s mother screaming for help saying “He shot my son!” Frankie ran upstairs to see his dying brother struggling to breathe, while Irene called 9-1-1. Paramedics arrived to find Gaye Sr. sitting on the front porch. They demanded to see the gun before they would enter the house. Irene found it under Marvin Sr.’s pillow and threw it on the lawn. When police arrived, Gay, Sr. was quickly escorted to the police station for questioning.
People gathering outside Marvin Gaye‘s house following news the singer was fatally shot, April 1, 1984.
Gaye was pronounced dead on arrival upon his entry to the California Hospital Medical Center at 1:01 pm PST, dying a day before his 45th birthday (April 2). Fans and neighbors of Marvin’s crowded around the scene of the crime shortly after hearing the news.
Four days later, on April 5, Gaye was given a star-studded funeral, attended by over 10,000 mourners, including his Motown colleagues Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Motown CEO Berry Gordy, who was at one point, Gaye’s brother-in-law. The singer’s two ex-wivesAnna Gordy Gaye and Janis Gaye and his three children, Marvin P. Gaye III, 18; Nona Gaye, 9; and Frankie “Bubby” Gaye, 8; also attended the funeral. Gaye had an open casket funeral led by one of his ministers from his Pentecostal church. Shortly afterwards, the singer’s remains were cremated and Marvin’s children and his ex-wife Anna spread his ashes at the Pacific Ocean.
Around the same time, police interviewed Marvin Sr. on the events leading up to his son’s murder. When asked if he loved his son, Marvin Sr. reportedly took his time before finally answering, “Let’s just say I didn’t dislike him”.
Shortly after their son’s death, Alberta Gaye filed for divorce from Marvin Sr. after 49 years of marriage. Marvin Sr., then 69 years old at the time of his son’s death, continued to live in the Gramercy house until eventually he was sent to a rest home in Culver City, California, where he eventually died of pneumonia on October 10, 1998 at the age of 84.
Marvin, who was in debt at the time of his death, reportedly left no will. In his autobiography, Marvin’s friend Bobby Womack said he gave some money for Marvin’s second ex-wife, Janis to help try to cover up Marvin’s financial ruins leading to the death.
Gaye, Sr. was arrested under suspicion of murder shortly after the shooting, found standing on the front lawn of their home. He was held at the Los Angeles County Jail on $100,000 bail. An interview with The Los Angeles Herald Examiner quoted Gaye, Sr.: “I didn’t mean to do it.” 
A benign tumor then discovered at the base of Gaye, Sr.’s brain was removed on May 17, 1984 at County-USC Medical Centre. Despite this development, Superior Court Judge Michael Pirosh ruled that Gaye, Sr. was competent to stand trial on June 12, 1984 after reviewing a two-page report, including two psychiatric evaluations conducted by Dr. Ronald Markman. He appeared in court again on June 20, 1984, where he was ordered to return on July 16 for a preliminary hearing. His wife, Alberta, posted the reduced bond of $30,000 via a bondsman to secure Gaye, Sr.’s release.
Though initially charged with first degree murder, Marvin Gay Sr. pleaded no-contest to a voluntary manslaughter charge on September 20, 1984 via a plea bargain. On November 2, 1984, Judge Gordon Ringer sentenced Marvin Gaye, Sr. to six-year suspended sentence and five years probation. During the sentencing, a deeply emotional and frail Marvin Sr. told the court that he regretted killing his son. As quoted during the sentencing, Marvin Sr. said, “If I could bring him back, I would. I was afraid of him. I thought I was going to get hurt. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I’m really sorry for everything that happened.”
Tributes and reevaluation of Marvin’s music
A day after Marvin’s death, British rock group Duran Duran dedicated the song “Save A Prayer” to Gaye while on their Seven and the Ragged Tiger U.S. tour; later on that year, R&B singer Teena Marierecorded the song, “My Dear Mr. Gaye” with Gaye’s 1970s collaborator, Leon Ware. A year afterwards, two tribute songs, Diana Ross‘ “Missing You” and The Commodores‘ “Nightshift“, were released to national acclaim, both reaching number-one on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart while also reaching the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100.
That same year, David Ritz released the biography, Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, which quickly became a national best-seller upon its release. In 1984 Columbia and Motown re-released Marvin’s popular records, What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On, and Midnight Love on the charts. The following year, the labels, with help from Marvin’s friend Harvey Fuqua and his brother-in-law, Gordon Banks, released two works featuring unreleased Marvin material, Dream of a Lifetime and Romantically Yours.
In 1987, Gaye was posthumously inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Ashford & Simpson, Gaye’s frequent collaborators in the 1960s during his duets with Tammi Terrell. Two years later, another tribute song, “Silky Soul”, was released by Frankie Beverly & Maze, a group Marvin had mentored and had allowed to open for him during a 1977 tour. In 1994, Motown re-released more of Gaye’s works, including 1976’s I Want You, 1978’s Here, My Dear, and 1981’s In Our Lifetime. All three albums were critically reevaluated by music critics who hailed the former two albums as landmark masterpieces in Gaye’s career.
Marvin’s What’s Going On (1971), Let’s Get It On (1973), I Want You (1976), Here, My Dear (1978) and Midnight Love (1982) albums have been on several best-of lists over the years while rock criticDave Marsh declared Marvin’s international number-one 1968 hit, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” as the greatest song in rock history. In 1996, Gaye was given another posthumous honor with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The singer was honored in song by Seal and Annie Lennox. In 1990, Gaye was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, six years after his death. In his 2008 album, Something Else, Robin Thicke mentioned Marvin’s death in the song, “Dreamworld” with the lyric “I would say, Marvin Gaye, your father didn’t want you to die.”
Since his death and the release of Divided Soul, three more books, Steve Turner’s Trouble Man: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye, brother Frankie’s My Brother, Marvin and Michael Eric Dyson‘sMercy Mercy Me: The Art, Life and Demons of Marvin Gaye have been released. Two planned films on the singer’s life are also in the works.
Rapper B. Dolan‘s 2010 album ‘Fallen House, Sunken City’ features the track “Marvin,” a tribute which details the events leading up to Gaye’s death.