Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye

The Superego

"What's Going On" earned the artist unprecedented levels of acclaim, including a key to the city of Washington and a national award from the NAACP.

Marvin Gaye was on top of the musical world. But that was not high enough for him.

Gaye's ego swelled. He went so far as to place himself in God's company in an interview with Time magazine.

"God and I travel together with righteousness and goodness," he said. "If people want to follow along, they can."

He told Crawdaddy magazine, "I don't compare myself to Beethoven. I must make that clear. I just think I'm capable of all he was capable of. I think the only thing between me and Beethoven is time. Beethoven had it from the beginning. I'm acquiring it. It's gonna take me time because I don't have formal training."

He bragged he was working on a "two-movement symphony" (his classical masterwork would never materialize).

After writing music for Trouble Man, a blaxploitation film, Gaye told biographer Ritz, "No doubt I could have been a Hollywood star, but it was something I consciously rejected. Not that I didn't want it. I most certainly did. I just didn't have the fortitude to play the Hollywood game and put my ass out there like a piece of meat."

What's Goin' On by Ben Edmonds
What's Goin' On by Ben
Edmonds

Perhaps the most curious element of Marvin Gaye's needy personality concerned his delusions of grandeur in athletics.

In Detroit, he had befriended Mel Farr and Lem Barney, stars of the Lions NFL team. Gaye decided that he, too, could be a football star, and he announced that he would try out for the Lions as a wide receiver — never mind that he was skinny, aging and unskilled.

The Lions played along for the publicity until it became clear that Gaye was serious. The team backed out after considering the potential legal liability.

By all accounts, Gaye was no better than a middling athlete. Yet a 1970s concert program included this bizarre bio blurb:

"Marvin Gaye is a brilliant all-around athlete. He could have been outstanding as a swimmer, sprinter, high jumper, baseball player, football player or basketball player. He competes on a regular basis against name performers in all these sports."

The bio compared Gaye's swimming abilities to Mark Spitz, the best swimmer in the world in that era.

Gaye played golf in the 1960s with a Motown clique that included Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy, Jr., both accomplished golfers. The others said Gaye always finished last in his foursome — even though he cheated.

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