12/2/08

What The Fuck Happened? episode 1: MARVIN GAYE.

the funeral

The Sexual Healing Tour opened in San Diego on April 18 and was scheduled to conclude August 14. Few expected him to make it through the dates. As one sideman told Ritz, "There was more coke on that tour than on any tour in the history of entertainment." As the tour wore on, Gaye's behavior became increasingly bizarre. He became ever more obsessed by sex. He invited groups of five or six men and women to have sex in his room while he watched. On stage, he began doing a striptease to his bikini briefs during the finale, "Sexual Healing."

Meanwhile, he was being overwhelmed by paranoia. He hired a phalanx of bodyguards and wore a bulletproof vest except when on stage. He ordered sentries to guard his hotel room doors. He insisted that a hit man had been hired to kill him, and he worried that he was being secretly poisoned. During a tour stop in Boston, reporters sat slack-jawed during a press conference as Gaye revealed that he had hired famed attorney F. Lee Bailey to determine how, why and by whom he had been poisoned during his tour. He added that an antidote potion concocted by activist comedian Dick Gregory had saved his life.

Gaye survived the tour, in a fashion, then crawled home to recuperate at the Crenshaw district home in L.A. he had bought for his parents. His mother said, "When the tour was over, I never saw Marvin in such bad shape. He was exhausted. He should have checked into a hospital... The people around him should have forced him to go, but they did whatever he wanted. That's the way it had always been."

For the ensuing nine months, the Gay/Gaye house was a human zoo. Marvin Sr., Alberta and Marvin Jr. slept in three adjoining second-story bedrooms. (The couple hadn't been in the same bed together for 10 years.) Marvin's brother, Frankie, and his wife lived in an adjacent guest apartment. Most of the time, Marvin Sr. holed up in his room, swigging vodka, while Marvin Jr. holed up in his room, leering at porno videotapes and magazines and freebasing cocaine—often while his mother sat beside him wringing her hands. She said she would cry, and Marvin would say, "Mother, this is the last time, I promise." Marvin Jr. would place a phone call, and men would show up to deliver drugs. Women would come, as well, including groupies and his ex-wives, Anna and Janice, with whom he rekindled sexual relationships. He also beat a number of the women visitors, including Janice. Still paranoid, Marvin Jr. paid to install an elaborate, expensive security and surveillance system.

the Gaye estate, by the corner of Arlington and Country Club in Koreatown


Marvin hadn't lived in the same house with his father in a quarter-century. Besides the childhood baggage and conflicts over the drug use, sex and porn, two other issues festered in the edgy relationship between them. Alberta Gay had had kidney surgery in the fall of 1983. Marvin Sr. had gone back to Washington for unspecified purposes, and he refused to return to California to support his wife during her surgery. Also, Marvin Jr. had learned that his father had sold the family house in Washington during his stay there. He believed his mother was owed half that money, but Marvin Sr. refused to acknowledge that he had sold the property. Although the men managed to avoid one another most of the time, the physical tension was palpable—so much so that Marvin Sr. told his daughter Jeanne, "If he touches me I'll kill him." In his paranoia, Marvin Jr. had begun to stockpile guns when he returned home from the Sexual Healing Tour. He kept a cheap machine gun in his bedroom at one point until his mother insisted that he get rid of it. For reasons not entirely clear, Marvin gave his father a handgun, an unregistered .38-caliber Smith & Wesson, at Christmas time in 1983.

On the night of March 31, 1984, Marvin Sr. was angered because he was unable to find a document concerning an insurance policy. He stormed around the house and yelled at Alberta, whom he blamed for losing the document. He was still angry when he awoke the next morning, Sunday, April 1, the day before Marvin Jr.'s 45th birthday. At about 11 a.m., Marvin Sr. hollered up the stairs at his wife, who was in Marvin Jr.'s bedroom. The son went to the top of the stairs and hollered back that he should speak to Alberta's face if he had something to say. The father hurried up the steps and entered his son's room. Marvin Jr. leaped up off the bed and pushed his 70-year-old father out into the hallway, knocking him down and kicking him. Alberta interceded and the men separated. Marvin Jr. returned to his bed.

The father got up and went down the hall to his own bedroom. After a few moments, he returned to Marvin Jr.'s threshold. He raised a hand toward his son, and Alberta could see he was holding the .38 pistol Marvin Jr. had given him. He pulled the trigger, and shot his son in the chest, tearing through his heart. As Marvin Jr. slumped off the bed to the floor, his father strode forward and fired again. The second shot was unnecessary.

Marvin's brother, Frankie, ran to the sound of shots. His wife, Irene, called 911. Paramedics arrived to find Marvin Sr. sitting on the front porch. They demanded to see the gun before they would enter the house. Irene found it under Marvin Sr.'s pillow and threw it on the lawn. Gaye was rushed to California Hospital. Resuscitation efforts were in vain. He was declared dead at 1:01 p.m.

Everybody pointed fingers and offered theories after Gaye was dead. Jeanne Gay said, "In the past Father had made it very clear that if Marvin were to strike him, he'd murder him. Father said so publicly on more than one occasion." Gaye's bodyguard, Andre White, told author Turner that the case was in effect a suicide. He said, "He wanted to die, but he couldn't do it himself. He got his daddy to do it."

Dr. Ronald Markman, a psychiatrist who examined Marvin Gay Sr., had his own idea about the shooting. "I believe that people kill basically because they're humiliated," he told Turner. "It's not a question of whether you're a pacifist, a minister or a rabbi. It's a question of whether you are capable of being humiliated and whether you are able to deal with that humiliation short of the need to destroy. That day Marvin had humiliated his dad by knocking him down. So you have a 45-year-old man hitting a 70-year-old man. He was knocked to the ground. He got up without a word but he went and got a gun and returned to kill him."

In a jailhouse interview a week after the slaying, Marvin Sr. explained the slaying to the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. "I pulled the trigger," he said. "The first one didn't seem to bother him. He put his hand up to his face, like he'd been hit with a BB. And then I fired again. I was backing towards my room. I was going to go in there and lock the door. This time I heard him say, 'Oh,' and I saw him going down. I do know that I did fire the gun. I was just trying to keep him back off me. I want the world to know it wasn't presumptuous on my part."

Marvin Sr. at sentencing


Asked if he loved his son, Marvin Sr. chose his words carefully before saying, "Let's say that I didn't dislike him."

About 10,000 people attended the funeral, led by the Chief Apostle of the House of God, his father's old church. Stevie Wonder sang, and Smokey Robinson and Dick Gregory gave readings. Gaye was laid to rest wearing a costume from his final tour — a gold-and-white military-style uniform, with an ermine wrap at his shoulders.

An autopsy had found that Marvin Jr. had both cocaine and angel dust in his system when he died. And an examination of Marvin Sr. found what authorities called "massive bruises" on his body after he was arrested, apparently inflicted in the beating and stomping his son gave him just before the shooting. Marvin Sr. was charged with murder, but on September 20, 1984, he was allowed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, a plea bargain allowed based on his age (70), the physical assault and the drugs in his son's system.

He appeared before Judge Gordon Ringer on November 2 for sentencing. "This is one of those terribly tragic cases in which a young life was snuffed out," Ringer said. "But under the circumstances it seems to be agreed by everybody, including the very able and experienced investigating officers in this case, that the young man who died tragically provoked this incident, and it was all his fault."

Marvin Sr. was given an opportunity to speak. He said, "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." Ringer ordered a six-year suspended sentence and five years of probation. He banned Gay from drinking or owning a gun. Gay Sr. moved into the Inglewood Retirement Home. Alberta divorced him, after 49 years. She died of bone cancer three years after the slaying. Marvin Sr. died of pneumonia in 1998. Their son Frankie died of a heart attack in 2001.

Gaye died without a will, so his estate was of no benefit to his three children.


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