Marvin Gaye, wearing a fancy tux and blowing a kiss to the audience, stepped onto the stage at the 1983 Grammys to accept one of two awards he took home that night for his song “S3xual Healing.”
The soul singer had been churning out hits since the ’60s, but he’d never taken home a Grammy. The audience gave him a standing ovation.
“I’ve waited a very long time — 20-something years to win an award such as this,” said the crooner, famous for such Motown classics such as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “What’s Going On?” and “Let’s Get It On.”
The incident and the backstory
Gaye didn’t have long to enjoy his win. Less than 14 months later, on April 1, 1984, he was shot to death by his father, Marvin Gay Sr., one day before his 45th birthday.
Gaye — who added an “e” to his given name — grew up in Washington, D.C., singing at his minister father’s Pentecostal church. In the 2003 Gaye biography, Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, author David Ritz quotes the singer’s mother, Alberta, as saying that father and son always had a difficult relationship.
“My husband never wanted Marvin, and he never liked him,” Alberta Gay said. “He used to say he didn’t think he was really his child. I told him that was nonsense. He knew Marvin was his. But for some reason, he didn’t love Marvin, and what’s worse, he didn’t want me to love Marvin either. Marvin wasn’t very old before he understood that.”
Although his father didn’t approve, Gaye began a career in music and, after playing locally, teamed up with Motown’s legendary Berry Gordy. He played the drums for other artists and eventually released his own songs. He had his first top 10 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1963, with “Pride and Joy.” Hits including “How Sweet It Is to Be Love By You,” “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” and duets with Tammi Terrell, such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” made Gaye one of Motown’s biggest stars of the ’60s and ’70s.
But as the story often goes, trouble in Gaye’s personal life came along with fame. He struggled with drug addiction and canceled shows, and he had problems with finances and in his marriage to Berry Gordy’s sister, Anna Gordy, whom he married in 1963. He attempted suicide at least once.
In 1975 Anna filed for divorce, sparking a messy split that took two years to get resolved. Gaye quickly married Janis Hunter, but she filed for divorce even before her husband’s divorce with Anna was finalized. Struggling financially, Gaye filed for bankruptcy before the IRS came after him for $2 million in back taxes. He toured Europe for a while, but returned stateside in the early ’80s to make a comeback, fueled by his 1982 song “Sexual Healing.”
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