Q Magazine

On This Day in Music... April 1, 1984: Marvin Gaye Is Shot and Killed by His Father

Marvin, Sr. was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, tearfully telling the court, 'If I could bring him back, I would.'

wills q template
Source: Mirrorpix/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Marvin Gaye, who was only 44 years old when he was shot and killed by his father one day before Marvin's 45th birthday

Link to FacebookShare to XShare to Email

On April 1, 1984, a day before turning 45 years old, Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father. The two men got into a fight after Gaye tried to get in the middle of an argument that Marvin, Sr. was having with his wife, Alberta.

The relationship between Gaye and Marvin, Sr. had always been fraught with acrimony, owing to Marvin, Sr. having been a strict disciplinarian during Gaye’s youth, and it had remained that way into adulthood.

"Living with father was something like living with a king, a very peculiar, changeable, cruel and all-powerful king," Gaye told biographer David Ritz in Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye. "You were supposed to tip-toe around his moods. You were supposed to do anything to win his favor. I never did. Even though winning his love was the ultimate goal of my childhood, I defied him. I hated his attitude... If it wasn't for mother, who was always there to console me and praise my singing, I think I would have been one of those child suicides you read about in the papers."

That said, however, during the six months leading up to his death, Gaye was also growing increasingly depressed and paranoid, using cocaine with some regularity (often to excess) and even attempting suicide. Per his sister, Zeola Gaye, “We were going to take him to rehab on Monday, but he died on Sunday.”

Article continues below advertisement
wills q template
Source: Shout! Factory

Marvin Gaye performing on the T.A.M.I. Show in 1965

As Ritz wrote in his aforementioned book, Marvin, Sr. and Alberta had been squabbling off and on for a few days prior to the incident that led to Gaye’s death over an insurance policy letter that had gone MIA. At the time, Gaye had been living with his parents, aiding his mother during her recovery from kidney surgery, and at one point on the evening of March 31, the arguments reached a point where they overflowed into Gaye’s bedroom. Gaye told his father to leave Alberta alone, which he did.

The next day, however, Marvin Sr. shouted from a distance at Alberta about the letter again, at which point Gaye reportedly said that if he had something to say, he should do it in person. Tensions flared as Marvin, Sr. did indeed make his way upstairs, which reportedly led to Gaye shoving his father. Marvin, Sr. then proceeded to head back to his own room.

"Marvin followed him yelling little cuss words at him,” Alberta said in a court statement that was eventually released in June 1984. “Marvin told his father, 'I'll beat you up.' They both went into my husband's bedroom and I followed them. I couldn't see what happened in the bedroom. I heard my husband say, 'He's kicking me. I don't have to take that.' When I entered the room my husband was on the floor and Marvin was standing a short distance away. I took Marvin by the arm and led him back to his room. I sat him on the foot of the bed [and] Marvin told me, 'Mother, I'm going to to get my things and get out of this house; Father hates me and I'm never coming back.’”

Article continues below advertisement

As history reveals, Gaye never had the chance, owing to Marvin, Sr. entering the room with a gun.

“My husband didn't say anything,” Alberta said in her court statement. “He just pointed the gun at Marvin. I screamed, but it was very quick. He, my husband, shot and Marvin screamed. I tried to run. Marvin slid down to the floor after the first shot. Then my husband fired two more times.”

"The first one didn't seem to bother him,” Marvin, Sr. said in a jail cell interview with the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner only days after the shooting. “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. Ma [Alberta] comes in, she says, 'Marvin's bleeding.' I went down the hall and looked. 'Babe,' I said, 'call the paramedics.’”

Alberta ran next door to the house where their other son, Frankie, lived, and per TruTV’s expansive article “The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye,” it was actually Frankie’s wife, Irene, who called 911. When the paramedics arrived, Marvin, Sr. was sitting on the front porch, but they wouldn’t go inside until they saw the gun. Fortunately, Irene was able to find it under Marvin, Sr.’s pillow, and she threw it on the lawn. At that point, Gaye was rushed to California hospital, but attempts to resuscitate him were in vain: he was declared dead at 1:01 pm.

Article continues below advertisement

During the brief window between the shooting and the paramedics' arrival, Frankie ran into the house and climbed the stairs to enter the room where Marvin lay. Although there was no one else there who could corroborate the claim, Frankie wrote his posthumously-published memoir Marvin Gaye, My Brother, that Marvin whispered, "I got what I wanted... I couldn't do it myself, so I had him do it... it's good, I ran my race, there's no more left in me."

Gaye's sister Jeanne certainly didn't disagree with the premise of Gaye's purported remarks: as she told Ritz, Gaye's actions succeeded in doing three things: "He put himself out of his misery. He brought relief to Mother by finally getting her husband out of her life. And he punished Father, by making certain that the rest of his life would be miserable... my brother knew just what he was doing."

Article continues below advertisement

In that same jail cell interview cited earlier, Marvin, Sr. swore of the gun, "I thought it was loaded with blanks or BBs; I didn't know any bullets was in the gun."

He also revealed that he didn't know he'd killed his son until the detective informed him later.

"I just didn't believe it," said Marvin, Sr. "I thought he was kidding me. I said, 'Oh, God of mercy. Oh. Oh. Oh.' It just shocked me. I just went to pieces, just cold. I just sit there and I didn't know what to do, just sitting there like a mummy. I was just trying to keep him back off of me. I just want the world to know it wasn't presumptuous on my part."

Whatever may or may not have been intentional, the end result was that Marvin, Sr. – who was subsequently diagnosed with a benign tumor at the base of his brain – pleaded no contest to a voluntary manslaughter charge on September 20, 1984. He was sentenced on November 2 to a six-year suspended sentence and five years of probation.

During his sentencing hearing, Marvin, 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.”

As for Gaye, his own musical legacy remains strong lo these many decades later, but he was also remembered in song by several of his peers, most notably the Commodores ("Night Shift") and Diana Ross ("Missing You").

Article continues below advertisement

Never miss a story — sign up for the Q newsletter for the latest music news on all your favorite artists, all in one place.


Subscribe to our newsletter

your info will be used in accordance with our privacy policy

Read More