What Happened to Marvin Gaye’s Killer and Father?

Marvin Gaye Jr. was one of Motown’s greatest. His songs are still well known today, almost 50 years after most of them were first recorded. But his musical success was not enough to save Martin Jr. from his troubles. He had his demons and abused drugs throughout his career. His life ended suddenly and tragically when his father shot and killed him in 1984. Most fans know how Martin Jr. met his end, but they may be surprised at some of the details surrounding the crime

Marvin Gaye on stage, singing into a microphone, wearing a red outfit
Marvin Gaye | David Redfern/Getty Images

Marvin Gaye made Motown mainstream 

Marvin Gaye was actually born Marvin Gay. When people made fun of his last name, Marvin Jr. tacked the ‘e’ on the end. It’s hard to imagine anyone making fun of Marvin Jr., considering how musically talented he was. Marvin Jr. was one of Motown’s greatest. He recorded most of his music in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, in 1980, he renounced drugs and wrote one of his greatest hits, “Sexual Healing.” 

Unfortunately, Marvin Jr.’s sobriety wouldn’t last long. This time, when he started using again, Marvin Jr. became dangerously paranoid. According to his biographer, “Marvin was made totally paranoid by drugs at the end. He had people testing his food and water, and bodyguards with sub-machine guns in adjacent hotel rooms.” Most people blame his drug use for the tragedy that happened in April 1984, when Marvin Sr. killed his son.  

Marvin Gaye’s father killed him in 1984

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Marvin Jr. and Marvin Sr. never had a great relationship. According to Marvin Jr.’s biographer, Marvin Sr. never seemed impressed by Marvin Jr.’s musical success. The elder Marvin was a preacher and disagreed with Marvin Jr.’s lifestyle. According to Marvin Jr.’s biography, “Marvin’s relationship with his father made him who he was. His need to be successful, find love, and then take drugs were all down to it. No matter what he achieved with his songs, all he got was resentment and criticism.”

Fans may think that Marvin Sr. shot his son because of their differences, but that isn’t what official court transcripts say. Although Marvin Jr.’s mother says that her son was shot when he intervened in an argument between her and her husband, Marvin Sr.’s account differs. He claims that the younger Marvin attacked him first. He claims he shot his son in self-defense, according to History. Marvin Sr. didn’t end up going to jail for killing his son because the judge believed he shot his son out of fear for his life. He plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was given a six-year suspended sentence, which means he did not end up serving time for the death of Marvin Jr. 

Marvin Gaye Sr. regretted taking his son’s life 

Marvin Jr. was certainly troubled, and he was in a serious downward spiral by 1984. His father was an overbearing personality, and Marvin Jr. was constantly looking for his approval, which never came. Still, there seemed to be some love there. Marvin Jr. lived with his parents, after all. He had a successful music career and probably could have lived on his own. But he chose to keep his family close. 

Marvin Sr. never stopped expressing regret over his actions in April 1984. Although Marvin Sr. always maintained that he killed his son in self-defense, he claimed to regret taking his life. “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.” Marvin Gay Sr. died in 1998.