After the “Blurred Lines” Trial, Marvin Gaye’s Wife Releases a Tell-All Memoir

Jan and Marvin Gaye
Jan and Marvin Gaye

It’s a sad story as old as showbiz itself: rich, charismatic star with a substance-abuse problem hooks up with beautiful, starstruck girl half his age.

And 31 years later it’s still one hell of a cautionary tale about the effects of childhood abuse, chronic drug abuse and superstardom.

Jan Gaye wasn’t there at the beginning of Marvin Gaye’s horrible-wonderful-tragic life, when his Pentecostal minister/transvestite father, Marvin Gay Sr., brutally beat him at their Washington, D.C., home. Nor was she there at the end, when his father shot and killed the singer at their West Adams home in L.A.

But Gaye’s second wife had a front-row seat to his drug-fueled, downward spiral — from 1973, when the eager-to-please 17-year-old beauty attending Hamilton High School met the 33-year-old Prince of Motown, to his death in 1984. Gaye died while trying to protect his mother, Alberta, from the man whom Gaye regarded as such a devil that he added an “e” to his last name just to separate himself.

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Scheduled to be released May 19 — just two months after Gaye’s three children won a $7.4 million judgment against Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams for copyright infringement of his 1977 mega-hit “Got to Give It Up” in their recent hit “Blurred Lines ” — After the Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye is billed as a new tell-all memoir. And it lives up to the hype. When you’re done reading it, especially the painful second half, when the music legend loses his mojo, his money and his wife while sinking into paranoia and depression, it feels as if every joint and line of cocaine the couple ever shared and every lurid sex act they ever performed has been documented and dissected.

Yet it turns out to be a tell-almost-all memoir: Gaye tells L.A. Weekly that there were some details of their at-first-loving-and-then-destructive decade together that she left out of the 286-page manuscript. “There are certain things I will take to my grave,” she says.

By the time she met Gaye at an L.A. recording session, he was already famous for such 1960s hits as “How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Two years before they met, he released the smash album What’s Going On — with seminal songs “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Inner-City Blues.” The first concept album to come out of Motown, it perfectly captured the political and social unrest roiling the country.

What’s Going On reflected the socially conscious side of Gaye. And there was a sweet, spiritual side, expressed in all the generous things he did for his friends and family.

But there was also hedonist Marvin, who woke up with a joint, smoked weed 24/7, became a cocaine addict and lived the carnal lifestyle he celebrated in mega-hits “Let’s Get It On” and “Sexual Healing.”

Then there was contrary Marvin, who instinctively defied all authority, and self-destructive Marvin, who sabotaged all of his success. Most of all there was Dramatic Marvin, who delighted in creating chaos and setting up rivalries among his many women and those friends and family who sought to eat off his plate.

“There’s a possibility he was bipolar or manic-depressive,” says Gaye, who married him in 1977, had two children with him and divorced him in 1981. “When you add drugs to that, it creates real chaos.”

For the root causes of such a complex, dysfunctional personality, she points directly at his father. Not only did young Marvin suffer continual beatings with a belt from his sadistic father, but he also endured taunts from neighborhood kids that his cross-dressing father was gay at the same time he saw his dad flagrantly cheating on his wife with other women.

“Marvin used to ask me what I thought of his father,” she says. “I told him it was pretty shocking that this is what you grew up with.”

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