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Marvin Gaye and the Far-Reaching Effects of Child Abuse: Celebrity Legacies

I provided commentary on the life of Marvin Gaye for “Celebrity Legacies” on ReelzChannel. His life is unfortunately a sad reminder of the devastating long-reaching effects of child abuse.

Airing Aug. 19 10pm Eastern, 8PM Mountain on Reelz

Celebrity Legacies

Singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye was instrumental in helping shape the movement of Motown. He first started performing professionally as part of the Marquees, then later became a solo artist where he found fame with such timeless hits as “Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1968), “What’s Going On?” (1971), and “Sexual Healing” (1982). Gaye would greatly influence future musical generations, chiefly in his use of R&B and Soul to explore themes like social activism, religion and spirituality, and human sexuality. But behind Marvin’ professional achievements and public persona lay the dark secret of a severely a

busive childhood that culminated in a lifetime of problems and a tragic end.

Sadly, it has become almost cliché for a successful Hollywood musician or actor to come from a broken home and experience abuse (physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual, etc.). And while all abuse is tragic, that which was suffered by Marvin Gaye is truly horrific. His sister explained that their father, Marvin Gaye Sr. would brutally whip them for every small shortcoming. Marvin later clarified the extent of the abuse: “It wasn’t simply that my father beat me; by the time I was twelve, there wasn’t an inch on my body that hadn’t been bruised and beaten by him.” The injustice he suffered at the hands of his father damaged nearly every aspect of his life:

Drug Addiction

Marvin turned to drugs early on. His fascination with marijuana as a young man would continue and turn into a lifelong habit. He later experimented with cocaine and developed a strong addiction. Marvin was described as using drugs as a way to take the edge off of the stress of touring. He also was likely attempting to self-medicate as a way to numb the pain of his past. Ironically, it was his cocaine problem that forced him to move back into his parents’ home, a decision that would play a crucial role in his demise.   

Relationship Problems 

Having witnessed dysfunctional relationships as a child, Marvin was unable to form healthy ones as an adult. His first marriage to Anna Gordy ended amidst rumors of infidelity and physical altercations committed by both spouses. His next major relationship was with Janis Gray, a young woman who became pregnant with his child when she was only 17 years old. They later had an “open marriage” that was likewise fraught with problems. It seems that even with his own family, Marvin was unable to find peace and lasting satisfaction, as his original family had scarred him and left him unable to create emotionally and physically healthy connections with others.

Suicidal Ideation 

Prone to bouts of depression that were almost certainly compounded by heavy drug use, Marvin was frequently at risk for self-harm and attempted to take his own life on at least three separate occasions. He even explicitly mentions that the abuse he suffered contributed to his suicidal tendencies: “If it wasn’t for Mother, who was always there to console me and praise me for my singing, I think I would have been one of those child suicide cases you read about in the papers.” Psychologists have long understood that individuals who experienced abuse as children are more likely to have thoughts of suicide or tragically perhaps even attempt or commit it.

The world was shocked when Marvin was murdered by his own father at the age of only 44. Though he had experienced great professional success, he never was able to escape the far-reaching consequences of his traumatic childhood, and it was his own abuser that ended his life.

If you know or suspect a child is a victim of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, please call 1-800-4-A-CHILD in order to get help.  

For more information on “Celebrity Legacies” episodes (including air dates and times), visit Reelz Channel 

About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.

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