Remembering Marvin Gaye’s Tragic Death At the Hands of His Own Father 40 Years Later

Marvin Gaye performs on stage at De Doelen, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 1st July 1980.
Rob Verhorst/Redferns

On April 1, 1984, the “What’s Going On” singer Marvin Gaye was murdered by his father, Marvin Gay Sr., shocking the nation. Those who believed the story, anyway. Because it was April Fool’s Day, at first, not everyone was sure it was true. The story is so bizarre it’s easy to see why.

Marvin Gaye

Credit: Courtesy Of Polygram

Not only did Marvin Gaye die at the hands of his own father, a former minister with whom he struggled to have a relationship with for much of his life, the gun used was one that Gaye had purchased for him not long before the incident. Gaye was also suicidal, due to a long battle with depression and the pressure of his career and touring schedule. As he was dying, he allegedly told his brother: “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.”

Marvin Gaye, Casino, Oostende, Belgium, 04/07/1981.

Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

According to the autopsy, Gaye had also been high on cocaine and PCP at the time, so he was clearly not in the right state of mind when, during yet another conflict with his father — this one so bad it would lead to his death he instigated a physical fight with him. He had been living with his parents at the time to help care for his sick mother, in a house he’d purchased for them, and was swept up in an argument between them (of which there were apparently many).

Marvin Gaye Death Certificate

His father was also not in a normal frame of mind when he aimed a gun at his son’s chest and fired it. Beyond that being an almost incomprehensible thing to do to your own child, it was revealed during the trial that followed that Marvin Gay Sr. was suffering from a brain tumor. After the incident, Marvin Sr. claimed he didn’t know the gun had bullets in it and that he did not intend to shoot his son. He was still deemed psychologically competent to stand trial, despite the tumor.

Clergyman Marvin Gaye, Sr. breaks down in court as he is sentenced for the shooting of his son soul singer Marvin Gaye, Jr. Gaye was placed on five years probation.


Because of the fight that preceded the shooting, Marvin Sr. was only sentenced to a six-year suspended sentence and five years of probation for voluntary manslaughter, and the court forbade him from owning firearms or drinking. He passed away from pneumonia in a nursing home on October 10, 1988, at 84 years old.

All in all, a very bizarre story with a tragic ending.

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