*”I visited him in jail … he had a brain tumor, which the doctors told me …had a whole lot to do with what happened and why he felt what he felt about Marvin and my mother… He was sorry, but my father was also a very, very proud man and he did not tolerate, at any point, disrespect…that’s like a ‘black sin’ … you don’t disrespect your parents.” — Zeola Gaye on why her father shot his son and her brother, Marvin Gaye.
It is hard to believe that Marvin Gaye has been dead for 27 years. So many of us recall that dreadful April 1, 1984, when the news flashed across television screens, and usurped radio airwaves revealing news that the singer had been fatally shot by his father – one day before his 45th birthday.
It seemed that for at least a moment, the earth stood still.
One of the greatest artists to ever grace the music landscape, Marvin Gaye was ever-present in the realities of ordinary folk; and used his artistic gifts as a means to articulate and reveal what many of us could not. His being gone was, and is, totally inconceivable, and hard to wrap ones brain around.
As the second eldest of four siblings, Marvin had two sisters and a brother. Recently EURweb publisher Lee Bailey traveled to Las Vegas to visit Zeola “Sweetsie” Gaye, Marvin’s youngest sister, to talk about the book she said she just had to write, “My Brother Marvin: A Memoir” by Zeola Gaye. The years of drug use that kept her mind foggy and unable to articulate is now a thing of the past, and she wants people to hear the truth about her brother; the facts surrounding his death at the hands of their father, and, contrary to popular belief, what she says is the truth about the tumultuous, love-hate relationship her brother had with his ex-wife, Janis Gaye, who she says hadn’t been in the singers life at all for two years prior to his death. In this EURweb exclusive, Zeola Gaye says, “It is time to set the record straight!”
“They need to know … what he was using … They need to know about my father …. They need to know about the illness that was in my family,” Zeola tells Lee Bailey. “My father was an alcoholic. Marvin was on drugs. I was on drugs….I needed to put it together. I don’t want people to think that Marvin hated my father or my father hated him; there was love there… I just thank God that I was able to get it out.”
She clarifies that nobody witnessed the shooting. The only people in the house, she confirms, was Marvin, her mother and her father [and] most of her information comes from her mother, who kept a journal; and her father, because she was his caregiver following the shooting.
“He’s remorseful”, Zeola offers in an attempt to explain her father’s demeanor following the shooting; and how she has come to terms with everything. “But you know what? I had to look at it like, that’s between he and God now. He’s still my father. I wouldn’t be here without him; Marvin wouldn’t have been here without him. And he’ll have to pay for that…” She elaborates further when asked about the charges brought upon him.
“He was charged at first with murder. But once they found out what really happened, they reduced the charges to manslaughter, and he was given 5 years probation. Then he came home and went into a rest home and my niece, Angie, watched him from that point on. As I wrote in my book… he was pretty angry with me. (Giggles here). You know, for spending his money, because I had power of attorney to pay for the lawyers…I kind of spent some of the money for myself because I was still on drugs…so he wasn’t very happy about that when he got out of jail…I kind of stayed away from him. I wasn’t going to press my luck. (Giggles)”
“I’ve been working on this [book] for a long time,” says Gaye, who in later years would become her brother’s best friend and closest confidant, when asked why she chose to write the book at this time. “I’d start it, but then I’d stop because the pain would be so severe. I guess timing-wise it had to happen when it happened. I worked with several people trying to get it out; nobody was working out. I couldn’t get my thoughts together. I wasn’t well then. I was on drugs at the time I started, and I knew I had to get myself clean before I could do anything – I couldn’t even think! I knew what I wanted to say because I was so hurt and mad at all the other things that had been put out on Marvin. The documentaries and things I read in the paper. All the inaccuracies about my family that these people that did not …grow up with us…I don’t remember anybody eating at my mother’s table; having breakfast and dinner with us. I don’t remember her waking them up to go to school; so I’m like ‘where are these people getting this information?’ And about 4 years ago, when I moved here (LV) I said, ‘You know what, do this. Just do it’ and I sat in my room, I prayed and I …asked God, ‘Just give me the words to say. I just started talking… I tried to remember everything I possibly could about my life; growing up with my family…and I finally got it down… I had like 30 tapes.”
Though “Zee”, the nickname her big brother Marvin gave her, was 6 years younger than Marvin, the two didn’t become close until after he moved out and started working on, “What’s Going On”. The book, “My Brother, Marvin: A Memoir” by Zeola Gaye is her first; and though her writing style distinctly lacks the eloquence and structure of a more experienced writer; and the forthright and raw content often reads “choppy” – it offers explosive claims and interesting insights into the family history; particularly, the dynamics of the sometimes disturbing relationship between a confrontational Marvin Gaye Jr., and his dad, Marvin Gay, Sr.
Bailey can’t help but notice and make mention of the loving display of memorabilia and family photographs throughout Zeola’s home.
“I tend to want pictures of Marvin and the family around. It keeps him alive in my heart” says the now 65-year-old, Zeola Gaye. “When I wake up in the morning, I look over at the pictures [and say] ‘Hey, what’s up’…I always feel that he’s with me. It makes me feel close, still, with his spirit. Just having the pictures around I sometimes tell myself, he’s on tour.”
Marvin Gaye was such an enigmatic figure, and the public is still hungry for information about his life and the events surrounding his death. Bailey asks,
“This may sound like a crazy question, but…what’s it like being the sister of Marvin Gaye? Was it a big deal before he died…during his fame, his heyday? I ask this because family members are like ‘He’s my brother. It’s no big deal’. But was it different with him…was he just your brother?”
“He was my brother … he was always Marvin around us. He would be Marvin the superstar when I would go out with him or see a show or be at a concert and watch peoples’ reactions when they would see him. They wanted to be close to him. They wanted an autograph. Then I saw him in a different light. Then he was my brother ‘the superstar’, which I enjoyed. I loved interacting with him. He loved calling me his baby sister. He was the first one who called me ‘Zee’. He was just Marvin…so down to earth. I loved the way he made people comfortable to approach him…I feel very honored to have been in a family that had a superstar.”
At one point during the interview, Bailey is shown excerpts from a documentary about Marvin Gaye; a film that the family has been holding on to. As he would later learn in the interview, from Zeola’s business manager, Barbara Cole of Keep it Movin’ Promotions, the doc was created several years ago following interest from London-based producers who had seen a stage play on Marvin, loved it, and suggested (to Zee) that a documentary be made from which a full-length film would later be developed. Long story short, though the doc was finished 3 years ago, and the family says they are pushing their “partners” to get it out in cinemas; it still sits in limbo. Why?
Wait for it…
EMI won’t release the rights to Marvin Gaye’s music; Janis Gaye halts “Everything Marvin” if it is not under her sole control; and no one in the family is speaking to the other. Makes it kind of hard to get a project off the ground.
Following the excerpt, which Bailey calls “shocking”, Zeola is asked about the difficulties she has in watching it and being faced, again, with what happened.
“You know that day, which I’ll never forget as long as I live…when I think about it – even though it’s been 27 years, it’s just like yesterday…To watch it, it still hurts, but I think over the years (Chokes up here) …I’m able to watch it without breaking down in tears. But that little thing in your heart, it does not go away. It’s still very, very sad; very shocking. I don’t think the pain ever goes away… You know what I was enjoying? …watching him speak…because I know him, I know his sense of humor. I’ll smile at that; but when I talk about the day it happened, and what his last words were, I just kind of suck it up …”
When Bailey’s inquiries turn to Marvin Sr., she responds…
In an explosive Part Two tomorrow, Tuesday (12-06-11) Zeola Gaye holds nothing back as she opens up about how she lives today with what her father did. She attempts to explain the “dynamics” behind the complicated father-son relationship between Marvin Sr., and his son – a confrontational Marvin, who had problems with authority. Also, Zeola talks about the awful accusation Marvin Sr. constantly put in the face of his wife and their famous son; How drugs awaited Marvin Gaye and his entourage at every hotel and venue they played. Names are revealed about the scandalous extramarital relations Marvin’s ex-wife Jan Gaye had with his music peers; and “The List” Zeola holds onto, where Marvin names people who claimed to be his friend, but he knew better. Be sure to come back in for part two for the answers we have been waiting for, from someone who was actually there!
DeBorah B. Pryor is a freelance Journalist whose work appears often in EUR and a variety of national and local publications. Her work as a journalist has taken her all over the world, most recently to Southern Africa. She also presides over The Art of Communication: Public speaking for private people, a unique series of workshops conducted in the Los Angeles area and geared to empower support staff to succeed in today’s challenging workplace environment. To learn about upcoming workshops Email: [email protected].