Who Killed Marvin Gaye? The Death of a Motown Superstar

Marvin Gaye was a brilliant singer/songwriter who was shot to death by his own father a day before his birthday. But that’s not the whole story.

Marvin Gaye was arguably one of the most important voices in the music of the ’60s and ’70s. He was definitely one of the most important singer/songwriters in R&B. Unfortunately, this brilliant artist was silenced in the most tragic of ways.

Marvin Gaye’s Early Years 

Many people may have an idea of who Marvin Gaye was, but might not know how important he was to the world of music.

Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. was born on April 2, 1939, to Marvin Gay Sr. and Alberta Gay. Gay Sr. was a church minister, Alberta was a domestic worker. He grew up in the Fairfax Apartments in Washington D.C. with his siblings.


It was through his father’s church that Gaye discovered the joys of singing and music. Unfortunately, his father was a very strict disciplinarian who beat his son for any reason. He would also kick Gaye out of the home for no apparent reason. It was a relationship that remained strained during Gaye’s entire life.

During his teen years, Gaye embraced doo-wop and served as a member of a number of different groups like The Dippers. After a short stint in the army when he was 17, Gay joined up with The Marquees who worked with Bo Diddley.

Eventually, Gaye ended up on his own and in Detroit. If you were singing soul and R&B in the motor city, you eventually ended up at Motown Records.

Motown Years

It was at the start of his Detroit period that Gaye added the “e” to the end of his name. At first, it was slow going, but eventually, Marvin Gaye co-wrote the Marvelettes hit, “Beechwood 4-5789” in 1962. From there, it seemed like his career was off to the races.

Motown Superstar

Photo: Facebook/MarvinGaye

Gaye had a number of hits from then on, like “Hitch Hike” in 1962. He teamed up with Tammi Terrell for a series of successful duets in 1966.

It could be argued that Gaye reached his musical peak with the release of the What’s Going On album in 1971. Given complete creative freedom, Gaye crafted a masterwork of soul and R&B that set the standards for what soul and R&B could be. While he recorded music up until the time of his death, Gaye never crafted an album of that significance again.

Death of a Legend

By 1983, the road wore pretty rough for Marvin Gaye, but things were looking brighter. He bought a home for his parents and other family members to use. Gaye decided to move in with his parents to help with his mother (who was recovering from surgery), and as an effort to clean up from a drug habit he was developing that furthered a paranoia which was also being fostered.

Marvin Gaye’s father also moved into the home, and a relationship that had always been filled with arguments and fights resumed. Gaye long wanted his father’s acceptance and, despite how his father treated him in the past and present, he wasn’t going to give up on the relationship.

For Christmas in 1983, Gaye gave his father a Smith & Wesson .38 special. As to why, there has always been speculation. Gaye told his father it was to be used to protect Gay Sr. and Gaye’s mother from possible intruders. A number of family members contend that Gaye was suicidal and giving his father a gun was pretty much the same as shooting himself. Marvin Gay Sr. made it clear to all his children, if they ever laid a hand on him, he would kill them

April 1, 1984. Marvin Gay Sr. argued with his wife about a misplaced insurance policy letter. Gaye had enough of his father’s yelling and threats. Fueled by years of arguments and drugs, he stood up to his father and proceeded to strike him a few times, landing a few kicks on his father before returning to his room.

Gay Sr. disappeared for a few moments and reappeared with the very same pistol his son bought for him the Christmas before. He walked into Gaye’s room and shot him twice. By the time the police were called and Gaye got to a hospital, it was too late. Marvin Gaye died a day before his 45th birthday.

Trial of the Father

For such a big superstar in music, the trial revolving around Marvin Gaye’s murder was a relatively small affair. During a checkup, while he was in jail, a small tumor was discovered at the base Gay Sr.’s brain. After its removal and two different psychiatrists, Marvin Gay Sr. was declared competent for trial on June 12, 1984.

The judge in the case, Judge Ronald M. George, agreed to allow plea bargains after he saw pictures of the damage that Marvin Gaye inflicted upon his father during their fight, and the number of drugs that was in Gaye’s system.

Marvin Gay Sr. entered a plea bargain of no contest to voluntary manslaughter. On November 2, 1984, Gay Sr. was sentenced to a six-year suspended sentence, and five years probation. Gay Sr. told the court:

“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. I loved him. I wish he could step through this door right now. I’m paying the price now.”