Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye

Setting The Stage

In the abstract, the details of Marvin Gaye's death read like a Biblical parable: Man hollers at wife. Son, defending mother, hollers back at father. Father hollers at son. Son smites father. Father kills son.

But the devil is in the details.

The slaying, 20 years ago this spring, was the climax of a long-festering, pathological relationship between the troubled, drug-addled soul singer and his oddball father.

Their relationship featured violence, competition, humiliation, rancor and hate. They had argued and fought most of their lives, perhaps because they were too much alike to ever hope to get along.

Each was deeply conflicted.

Marvin Gaye Jr., 1983 performance
Marvin Gaye Jr., 1983

Marvin Sr. was a terminally out-of-work fundamentalist preacher who ranted against the sins of indulgence. Yet he was an avid consumer of vodka and a zealous cross-dresser.

Like his dad, Marvin Jr. was a contradictory character, made up of equal parts hubris and self-loathing, boundless egomania and debilitating insecurities.

He consumed prodigious amounts of cocaine and as a result spent his life in debt, despite earning millions.

"How much have I spent in toot over the years?" Gaye mused a few years before his death. "I don't want to know... Enough to certify me as a fool. You'd have to call me a drug addict and a sex freak."

True, sex was another of Gaye's singular contradictions.

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