N THE EVENING of Sept. 28, 1979, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas felt like the center of the universe. Sugar Ray Leonard was fighting Andy Price for the North American Boxing Federation welterweight title. In the crowd, sports legends like Joe DiMaggio and Joe Louis mingled with entertainers like Smokey Robinson and Cary Grant. Diana Ross sat ringside, next to Motown founder Berry Gordy. And in Price’s corner, amid the television cameras and cigar smoke, sat Price’s manager, Marvin Gaye, feeling like his whole life was on the line.
Gaye often spoke in boxing metaphors, and in 1979 — in the wake of a costly divorce from his first wife, estranged from his second, gripped by cocaine addiction, and badly in debt to the IRS — the image of the pummeled prizefighter became particularly potent to him. “I was hanging onto the ropes. I was punch-drunk,” he told writer David Ritz in his biography Divided Soul. “I kept telling myself that good news was around the corner, but there wasn’t anything around the corner except some big IRS dude ready to mug me. I was tired of getting beat up.”
Gaye’s relationship to boxing wasn’t merely metaphorical. He’d dabbled in the sport as far back as adolescence, and he remained a fan throughout his life. He even managed a couple of fighters in the mid-1970s, though they both proved disappointing.
At a 1978 benefit for a congressional candidate, he actually got in the ring with Muhammad Ali. Highly competitive and seemingly delusional about his abilities — never mind that the whole thing was meant to be a lark — Gaye was intent on actually boxing Ali.
In her revelatory memoir, After the Dance, co-written by Ritz, Marvin’s second wife, Jan, recalled the Ali exhibition. “It didn’t take more than a minute for Ali to knock him to the ground. Because Ali loved him, he didn’t hurt him,” she wrote. “But Marvin was nonetheless humiliated. When it came to sporting feats, Marvin had delusions of grandeur.”
In preparation for the Ali “fight,” Gaye trained at the Hoover Street Gym in South Central Los Angeles. This is where he first laid eyes on Andy “the Hawk” Price, a neighborhood hero and contending welterweight. “He saw me in the gym and said he liked my style,” Price remembers. “That was the beginning of our partnership.”
But if his own limitations as a boxer were now clear, Gaye had at least found a way to stay in the ring, or near it: He’d become the Hawk’s manager. Gaye’s partnership with Price led to three victories, before Gaye scored Price that Vegas title shot against Leonard, boxing’s baby-face sensation. It was the biggest fight of Price’s career, and just as huge a moment for Gaye. A victory, Gaye believed, would turn his life around. “Once my man wins the crown,” he told Ritz, “everything’s going to be all right.”
“I think Marvin suffered from this magical-thinking syndrome,” says Ritz, who met Gaye in 1979. “He saw Andy as his savior. He was gonna knock out one of the greatest fighters in history, make Marvin millions, and then all his problems would be solved.”
This is the story of that fight in Vegas, and how it changed the lives and careers of all involved. Though much has been written about Gaye’s downward spiral in the late Seventies and early Eighties, about the resurgence of his career in the wake of “Sexual Healing,” and his 1984 murder at the hands of his own father at the family’s home, little has been written about this event. It’s a story that illustrates so much about Gaye — his fears, his misplaced ideas of masculinity, his charms, his ability to pull profundity out of pain, his cruelty, and his delusions.
For a brief moment in 1979, the fates of a tortured soul singer and a working-class prizefighter were entwined. Gaye once said that when he managed fighters, when he really put his heart into them, it was as if it were he himself in the ring. That night in Vegas, this was never more true.
IN THE EARLY DAYS of Motown, according to Ritz, Berry Gordy kept a framed portrait from his days as a Golden Gloves boxer on a wall of his office. Gordy had a solid career as a fighter in the late 1940s, reportedly winning most of his fights before being drafted into the Korean War. When he returned, the legend goes, he used a loan of $800 to start Motown.
Gordy signed Gaye in 1961, and the hits followed, one after another. But despite reaching dizzying heights of success together, the two were, as Gaye put it, “destined to clash.” A lot of their troubles, Ritz believed, stemmed from the fraught relationship Gaye had with his father. Marvin Gay Sr., a Pentecostal minister, was physically abusive and suffered from alcoholism. In addition, he occasionally cross-dressed, and hid that part of his identity from his friends and family. His cruelty led to his son’s deep distrust of male authority figures, Gordy especially.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., Gaye was humiliated by his father’s double life, feelings that led to a lifelong struggle with his own masculinity; he even added the “e” to his last name in hopes of dispelling rumors about his sexuality. This nagging insecurity, Ritz thought, helped drive him to become one of pop’s great sex symbols, and it also led him to sports, where he sought validation and camaraderie. “Confusion about manhood would become another great theme in Marvin Gaye’s life,” wrote Ritz. “His search for strong male role models led him into boxing rings and onto football fields while he fought to prove, fought to deny, fought to win his self-respect — gallant attempts which proved futile.”
Gaye’s relationship with Gordy was further complicated when he, 24 at the time, married Gordy’s glamorous older sister Anna, 41. Though the two surely loved each other, there was also something political driving their relationship. “Marrying a queen might not make me a king, but at least I’d have a shot at being prince,” Gaye told Ritz years later.
Gaye was one of Motown’s most reliable hitmakers throughout the Sixties, but with 1971’s What’s Going On, he became something more: an inner-city bard and soul music’s social conscience. Not long after that album’s monster success, he underwent another thrilling mutation, becoming a sex symbol of unprecedented sensuality and style with Let’s Get It On.
It was in the shadow of this white-hot success that Marvin and Anna’s marriage fell apart. In fact, it was at a session for Let’s Get It On that Gaye met Jan Hunter, a 17-year-old fan visiting the studio. By 1974, he was living with her. When Anna heard Jan had given birth to a daughter, she filed for divorce.
The divorce proceedings with Anna, finalized in 1977, only added to Gaye’s financial problems. His 1978 album, Here, My Dear, became a kind of bargaining chip in the settlement: Marvin agreed to pay Anna his advance and a large portion of its earnings. The album was a devastating song suite chronicling his turbulent marriage to and divorce from Anna. “A lot of people thought, because of the settlement and the royalties going to Anna, it was going to be a throwaway. That it wasn’t going to do well,” says London Miller, Motown’s vice president of sales at the time. “In a way, that assumption was right. He made an album about his divorce, but in a manner that was very creative. A lot of people just didn’t get it.”
There couldn’t have been a worse time for Gaye’s career to nosedive. In October 1978, Billboard ran a story revealing Gaye had recently filed for bankruptcy, estimating his debts at $7 million. “He didn’t have a money manager,” Ritz tells me. “I don’t think he had any idea how much money he owed the IRS, or if he even cared. He kind of delighted in his irresponsibility. But underneath that there was some kind of self-destructive mechanism.”
As 1978 drew to a close, Gaye realized he’d have to hit the road in order to dig himself out of debt. But even that proved disastrous at times. Struggling with depression and stage fright, he sometimes refused to go onstage, leaving behind disappointed fans and $50,000 paychecks he desperately needed. When he did perform, he often spent the money on cocaine.
Marvin had his light moments on the road, too, as Ritz recalled. One night, he hopped on a CB radio to announce to strangers on the highway they were stuck in traffic with none other than Marvin Gaye. He sang for them, then led a procession to a truck stop, where he popped bottles of champagne and partied with his new friends. “Despite all this dark shit going on, Marvin was still one of the most charming, loving, and charismatic men I’ve ever known,” Ritz says. “He was regal. He was philosophical. As much as he was falling apart, he sort of floated above it all.”
MARVIN AND JAN MARRIED in 1977, as soon as the ink was dry on his and Anna’s divorce papers. But that marriage was doomed as well. In After the Dance, Jan chronicled the manipulative games Gaye played when it came to their sex life. According to Jan, he’d push other men on her and encourage her infidelity, even convincing her to participate in group sex, only to then shame her afterward. (Jan declined to comment for this story; sadly, she died in December, at age 66.)
According to Divided Soul, Gaye claimed Jan was the flesh-and-blood manifestation of a recurring dream, in which he watched as a young woman taunted him as she had sex with other men. “Football players, boxers, weight lifters — would take her and whirl her around. Everyone was naked except me. She’d go from man to man, coming closer to me, moving away from me,” said Gaye. “She was the figure in my fantasy come to life, the one I watched dancing round and round in my imagination.”
This dynamic was exhausting. Eventually, Jan began an affair with Teddy Pendergrass. “That clearly tore Marvin up,” says Ritz. Pendergrass, stepping out from the shadow of Philly soul group Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, strapped himself to the rocket that was the disco-soul craze of the late Seventies and experienced massive success just as Gaye’s career was taking a downturn. It didn’t hurt that Pendergrass possessed blinding levels of sex appeal and a voice that was a heart-stopping blend of gravel and grace.
That Pendergrass had opened for Gaye and clearly looked up to him made his success and his betrayal all the more painful for Marvin. In her memoir, Jan says she and Pendergrass would spot Marvin’s car parked outside of restaurants when they were on dates. Gaye even sent a dozen dead roses to Pendergrass’s dressing room before a show at the Greek Theatre in L.A.
Whether it was his Herculean consumption of cocaine, his toxic romances, or his bad business dealings, Gaye knew how to court catastrophe. But like a fighter on the ropes angling for a comeback, he was intent on using his pain toward a productive end. He began working on a project he hoped would win back the critics and send a stark message to Pendergrass: an unbridled make-out album called Love Man. Song titles reportedly included “I Offer You Nothing But Love” and “A Lover’s Plea.” “The lyrics might be superficial, but no more than Teddy’s,’” Jan recalled Marvin saying, in After the Dance. “Besides, the grooves are more seductive than his.”
Sadly, the album didn’t have the makings of a hit, and both Gaye and Motown agreed to dump it. But before they did, they released “Ego Tripping Out,” an unnerving, disco-inflected proto-rap track. It grazed the Top 20 of the R&B chart before receding into the shadows, but it tells us a lot about what was going on with Gaye at the time.
The beat is manic, but seems to be going nowhere. There’s an overwhelming sorrow at the center of this thing. A sense of paranoia only a true addict could access. But just when you begin to get creeped out by the suffocatingly bad vibes, the song takes a redemptive turn. Gaye reflects on the pain intrinsic to egotism and the limits of self-medicating: “Turn the fear into energy, ’cause the toot and the smoke won’t fulfill the need.” With “Ego Tripping Out,” Gaye set out to make a commercial record, something that would reignite his stagnant career, but instead, he wound up making something much more gut-wrenching, reflective, and profound.
The single was released within weeks of the Price-Leonard fight. Around that same time, according to After the Dance, a coke-fueled Gaye visited Jan and their two children at her mother’s home in Hermosa Beach, California. The family decided to take a walk on the beach, and as the kids ran ahead and played, Gaye and Jan began to fight over his desire to divorce and her insistence that they first iron out the financial details. The fight escalated and turned physical, with Gaye pushing Jan to the ground and getting on top of her.
As Jan recalled, a neighbor called the cops, and soon four policemen pulled Marvin off of Jan. They quickly restrained him. Jan and the kids then watched as Gaye was carted off in the back of a squad car with a black eye.
THE PAST FEW YEARS have been hard on Andy Price. First, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010. Then there was the 2019 murder of his son and namesake, Andrew LaVelle Price II, a 36-year-old rapper known as YG Soprano who was killed in a drive-by shooting that remains unsolved.
You can still see glimpses of the toughness that made him such a good fighter. “I don’t have regrets about my career,” Price tells me. After a successful amateur career, he turned pro in 1972 and went undefeated in his first 15 fights.
He got his first break in 1976, due to an unlikely Hollywood connection. “Andy’s from South Central, but his mom did domestic work in Beverly Hills for, you know, high-profile people,” Price’s wife, Dede, explains. Dede has known Price since they were 10, and because Parkinson’s inhibits his ability to speak, she often speaks for him. “One of those people was Dinah Shore, and she was seeing Burt Reynolds at the time. Andy’s mom was always talking about her son, this boxer. Burt was interested in boxing and wanted to meet him. Next thing you know, he was managing Andy.” For a brief period, Reynolds and Lee Majors managed Price. “Burt was the best. He was just great to work with,” says Price.
Then came that fateful meeting with Gaye at the Hoover Street Gym in 1978. “Marvin was having financial troubles, and he was going to invest in me because he saw me as a way out,” says Price. “That’s when he became my manager.” Gaye agreed to handle Price’s schedule and all business regarding his fights. His first fight under Gaye’s management was in February 1979, against welterweight Billy Miller. Price won by decision after 10 rounds. Price won his next two fights as well.
The fight with Leonard — easily Price’s biggest yet — was the result of some behind-the-scenes negotiations between Gaye and iconic boxing promoter Don King. “Marvin came to see me,” says King. “He really wanted Andy to fight Sugar Ray. He just wanted to dot every I and cross every T. But I told him I wanted him to sing the national anthem.” The fight was locked in for September, and Gaye agreed to sing ahead of the main event, a rematch between Larry Holmes, defending his WBC heavyweight title, and Earnie Shavers. The card also included future legend Roberto Duran in a welterweight bout with Zeferino Gonzalez, Wilfredo Gomez against Carlos Mendoza for the super bantamweight title, and a heavyweight showdown between Michael Dokes and Jimmy Young.
At this point, Leonard was already on his way to becoming one of the greatest boxers of all time. He took home a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, then went pro and struck fear into the hearts of the entire boxing world. The fight with Price would be Leonard’s first bout defending the NABF welterweight title since his knockout victory over Peter Ranzany the previous month. He entered the night undefeated in 24 pro fights, at least half of which were finished with devastating knockouts. Beyond his lethal hook, Leonard had another highly valued quality: wholesomeness. The broad and shining smile, the glinting eyes, the whole Cheerios-commercial-ready package.
Price was more workmanlike, coming out of the furnace of L.A.’s inner-city gyms. He came into the fight with a solid 32-5-3 record, but had taken some disappointing losses in recent years. The word on Price was he could go the distance and challenge Leonard like no one had before. But it was a sink-or-swim moment for his career. “Andy was an excellent fighter. But to take on Sugar Ray, you’re walking through the gates of hell,” King sermonizes from his office in Florida. “Sugar Ray, as a combination situation, was impeccable. Punches coming from all different directions. South, west, east, north. Andy had to have what we call indomitable courage and invincible spirit.”
A lot was at stake for both fighters. In November of that year, Leonard was slated for his biggest payday yet, and a chance to claim the WBC welterweight title in a fight against Wilfred Benitez. But if Price pulled off an upset, Leonard’s shot at the belt against Benitez — and the agreed-upon $1 million payday — would be up in smoke. For Price, a victory would see him leapfrog Leonard in the world of welterweight contenders. He’d be on the fast track to a title shot.
FOLLOWING THE ALTERCATION in Hermosa Beach, Gaye was released from custody, and soon he, his mother, Alberta, his brother, Frankie, and their sister, Zeola, crowded into his customized Greyhound bus and headed to Vegas. “We left … on September 27th, during a heat wave, only to find the temperature climbing even higher as we traveled the long, desolate highway through the desert,” Frankie wrote in his memoir, Marvin Gaye, My Brother.
That night, they attended a Diana Ross show at Caesars Palace. The show was, Zeola tells me, “fantastic. We sat in a booth there, and she came over to the table and reached out her hand to Marvin, and he grabbed it and they started singing together. It was just a beautiful moment.” Price was there, too, as was Leonard, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson. After the concert they all went backstage for a party in Ross’s dressing room.
The occasion also served as an opportunity for Gaye and Gordy to ease some of the tension that flowed from the divorce and the poor performance of Here, My Dear. “Marvin sat down with [Gordy] and the two of them actually had a nice peaceful conversation,” Frankie recalls in his memoir. “It wasn’t the first time, I know, but seeing them together like that was rare.” The specter of hope for a better future, for a path toward redemption and a revitalized career, lay there like an open road for Gaye.
The next night, beneath the arena lights, amid the celebrities and cameras, Leonard and Price climbed into the ring. “There is the young man. Still unbeaten. Sugar Ray Leonard. So fleet of hand. So fleet of feet,” famed announcer Howard Cosell intoned as Leonard danced in his corner and fired jabs into the air. “And his opponent, now look at him closely. Andy Price from Los Angeles. See that beard? You wouldn’t see a man in the ring in any other jurisdiction, I do not think, in this country with a beard.”
The beard was no small issue. In the days leading up to the fight, Leonard and his trainer, Angelo Dundee — legendary trainer and cornerman for Muhammad Ali — had launched a campaign to force Price to shave it, claiming it would cushion the blow of punches and delegitimize the fight. “Ray knew I liked my beard. That was just a thing to get under my skin,” Price tells me. Though they didn’t fully succeed, Price was ordered to clip the beard, and the boxing commission banned facial hair in future fights.
Price stayed focused on his strategy. “I was going to box him in the early rounds and crowd him in the late rounds, never looking for the KO,” he remembers. “The plan was to outbox him.” But when Price finally turned from his corner to face Leonard and the national television cameras, there was a stunned expression pasted across his face. Whether it was the big shots sitting ringside, the roaring crowd, or the pure gravity of the fight, the weight of everything seemed to dawn on him all at once. “When Andy came out of the dressing room, Marvin said that he had this look in his eyes that frightened him,” Zeola remembers. “This look of fear. He said, ‘I didn’t like the way he looked.’”
Price claims he was confident: “I felt strong and ready. I had a lot of respect for Sugar Ray, but no more than for the next fighter.” There were reasons for Price to feel confident. Many thought this was going to be a real battle, Cosell included. “In Los Angeles, he has great support,” he said shortly after the bell rang. “He’s owned by the singer Marvin Gaye. Those of you not familiar with this man, they call him ‘the Hawk.’ ‘The uncrowned welterweight champion.’ So Sugar Ray should be in for a tough fight.”
The fighters sprang from their corners. Price came out aggressive, knifing at Leonard with left jabs. Leonard connected a few times early, but Price wouldn’t be discouraged. “Early on, he hit me with a right hand. It didn’t really hurt, so I thought it was going to be easy,” says Price.
Then Price hit Leonard with what Cosell called a “floating right.” Leonard responded a few moments later with a quick left jab to the jaw that seemed to mark an irreversible turning point in the fight. For the next minute or so they sliced in each other’s directions but made little to no contact. Price stayed aggressive. He stayed out of the line of fire. But then Leonard hit Price with a dizzying flurry of punches that sent him stumbling into the ropes.
Price dropped his hands; and then, the final devastating ceremony of abuse. Leonard hit him with one brutal combination to the head after another until Price, swaying back and forth like a tree being cut down, dropped lifelessly to the mat. The tour de force clobbering took all of two minutes and 52 seconds. As Leonard was triumphantly hoisted into the air by his team, Price struggled to his feet, then collapsed again, his eyes glazing over.
Sitting ringside in his black suit, a look of shock and sadness froze on Gaye’s face. “Marvin was just sick. He was devastated,” Zeola remembers. “A stunning victory over a man who all the scuttlebutt around here by the wise guys who cover boxing [said], ‘Wait till you see Andy Price. He can beat Leonard,’” Cosell bellowed.
Price eventually got off the canvas and hobbled back to the dressing room at Caesars, where he saw Gaye. “Marvin just looked so sad,” Price remembers. “I think he was crying.”
As if the moment wasn’t already heavy enough, Marvin still had to go out and sing the national anthem ahead of the main event with the fresh feeling of defeat enveloping him. “When I got backstage, Marvin was debating whether to do the national anthem or not,” Zeola recalls. “My mom told him, ‘Marvin, you gotta do it. Even though you’re struggling right now, you’ve gotta get out there.’ And he was down. He lost a lot of money that night on top of everything else. But still he went out there and did it. And it was just beautiful.”
Metaphors were meaningless now; Gaye was actually in the ring. Outside it were the pressures that had weighed him down for months and years: the IRS, the mounting debt he now surely could not escape; Pendergrass and Jan, and the brutal unraveling of another marriage; Gordy and Motown and those who didn’t understand the path he was on, who looked at him and saw an artist past his prime. Gordy’s presence that night was particularly fraught. “I think having Gordy there that night, knowing his history as an amateur boxer and an aficionado, the humiliation for Marvin was great,” says Ritz.
On either side of the ring stood Holmes and Shavers, set to battle. There were military men in navy and white with flags hoisted. There was King in a blue suit and bow tie, chomping on a cigar. And standing in the center of this maelstrom of garish American imagery was Marvin Gaye, with his black eye and black suit, clutching a microphone with what looked like tears in his eyes, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” crept in through the PA. Electric piano and a little guitar gave way to church organ and Gaye’s voice, which sailed from velvet whispers to tearful wails, turning an arcane hymn into a raw and personal prayer.
“A COUPLE OF DAYS after the fight, Marvin gave me a car. It was a ’73 Brougham Fleetwood,” Price tells me. “After that, I didn’t see him for a long time.” Price struggles to get out the next thought, but Dede steps in: “One of the reasons he stopped dealing with Marvin was because he saw the drug use taking over,” she says. “Andrew was a good kid. He went to Sunday school and didn’t drink and didn’t smoke. I think it scared him seeing where Marvin was going with that stuff.”
After the devastating defeat in Vegas, Price’s career was never the same. “There’s no doubt it was a big turning point,” says Dede. “After the Sugar Ray fight there was a downturn in the quality of fights and opportunities he got. If he beat Sugar Ray, that was gonna be a whole different career.” Though he won five out of the final seven fights of his career, they were all lower-stakes bouts. By 1983, it was all over, punctuated by another brutal knockout.
By November, a cocaine-addled and depression-stricken Gaye fled to Hawaii with his son, Frankie, escaping his myriad troubles, but also descending further into a hell of his own making. In Hawaii, as Ritz noted, things grew darker. Gaye got evicted from his condo and ended up living in the back of an abandoned bakery truck with Frankie, while Jan fought for a court order to get the boy back to Los Angeles. Marvin even attempted suicide by taking a lethal dose of cocaine, but survived. “The problems were too big for me. I just wanted to be left alone to blow my brain away with high-octane toot,” he said in Divided Soul. “It would be a slow but relatively pleasant death, certainly less messy than a gun.”
It’s clear from his own words that the staggering defeat in Vegas, along with Jan’s affair, his mounting debt, and stalling career, were the major catalysts for this bleak period that followed. “Jan ran off with Teddy Pendergrass,” Gaye told Ritz. “I set myself up for it, just like I set myself up for getting beat by Sugar Ray. But I didn’t realize what it would do to me. I couldn’t take it. I became sick, seriously sick. This was supposed to be the end of a long, bad period, but it was just the beginning.”
Gaye forced himself back on the road in 1980, hoping to combat his growing debt. The grueling tour was not favorably reviewed; to make matters worse, Marvin discovered the power of freebasing cocaine, and smoked or snorted away most of the $60,000 the tour grossed, according to Ritz. He was broke again, and Gaye said that friends like Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder, who in the past had loaned him money, now only offered advice. Though he was supposed to return to America after the tour, he chose to stay in Europe and avoid the anxieties back home.
While living in London, Gaye completed another brilliant but misunderstood album, 1981’s In Our Lifetime, a darkly sexy, fire-and-brimstone meditation on what he saw as the impending nuclear holocaust. According to Divided Soul, Gaye also believed that Motown had conspired with some of the musicians to have the master tapes smuggled out of the studio and back to L.A. When Motown made changes in the mix and released the album without his consent, Gaye swore to never work with the label again, putting an end to his working relationship with Gordy.
Around this time, Ebony interviewed Gaye, teasing the piece on the cover: “Exiled in London, controversial singer Marvin Gaye talks about: Losing his home and fortune to the IRS; kidnapping his own son …” As if that wasn’t bad enough, that cover featured none other than Sugar Ray Leonard, whose career had gone supernova since the Price fight. That cover line read, “Sugar Ray’s Greatest Challenge: How to handle life as world boxing champ, multi-millionaire corporation chairman and family man at 24.”
“I wanted to sue the magazine,” Gaye told Ritz. “They did it intentionally to show him as a winner and me as a loser. It was clearly a well-orchestrated plot against me.” Two years and some change later, the loss still stung deeply.
THEY WERE AN UNLIKELEY PAIRING: a beleaguered American pop star and an R&B-obsessed concert promoter from Belgium. But by all accounts, Freddy Cousaert came as close as anyone to saving Gaye’s life. The singer was particularly impressed by Cousaert’s relationship with Muhammad Ali, whom Cousaert brought over to Belgium on a promotional tour. “Marvin didn’t open up to many people right off, but once he heard Freddy relate his Ali story, he had to tell about his failed involvement in boxing,” Frankie Gaye wrote in his memoir.
In the spring of 1981, Cousaert persuaded Gaye to move to the Belgian seaport city of Ostend, where he and his wife ran a hotel. He lent Gaye money for a luxurious seaside apartment, became his de facto manager, and helped negotiate a new deal with Columbia Records. Though he never stopped smoking or snorting, Gaye lived a decidedly healthier life in Ostend. He could be seen running through the city in his Adidas tracksuit, playing basketball, or in the boxing gym sparring with Cousaert. “I am an orphan, in this moment,” he says in Marvin Gaye, Transit Ostend, a documentary from the time. “And Ostend is my orphanage.”
At the same time, Gaye reunited with mentor and producer Harvey Fuqua for an album that signaled a return to form for the fallen star. Midnight Love was a reggae-indebted party record that scored him one of his biggest hits ever with “Sexual Healing,” a song filled with so much nocturnal eroticism you wouldn’t guess it was conceived in a small Belgian town.
“There was an energy about Ostend I found stimulating,” Gaye told Ritz in Divided Soul. “The tempo was right, a little slow, but still hardworking. I fell in love with the city, and with Freddy’s family.” But like everything with Gaye, Ostend was merely a detour, a temporary break from darkness.
Columbia executives wanted Marvin back in America as Midnight Love came out. But the greater motivator to come home was the health of his mother. She had just been diagnosed with bone cancer and was preparing for surgery.
Gaye’s return was initially triumphant. He and Jan briefly reconciled, and Midnight Love was a hit, scoring Gaye his best reviews in years. But, still in the grips of freebase, he began slipping into old, familiar paranoia. According to After the Dance, he accused Jan of hiring gang members to murder him. “He was so paranoid about assassins that he stationed bodyguards to stand on either side of the stage during his performance,” Jan recalled.
Things were further complicated when Gaye’s father, who had been in D.C. during Alberta’s surgery and recovery, decided to move into the home she and Marvin shared in L.A. No one knows for sure, but in After the Dance, Jan says she heard Marvin bought a gun around this time and gave it to his father, asking him to protect him from the malevolent forces he believed were after him. “Why had he appointed Father as his chief protector?” Jan wrote. “Why had he handed a gun to Father? Or had he? Only God knows.”
The last time Andy Price saw Marvin was when the boxer went to visit his aunt and uncle, who happened to live across the street from Gaye’s family.
When Price pulled up, he noticed Gaye in the front yard. Gaye ran over and embraced him. Price introduced him to Dede. “I remember thinking, ‘What are the odds of that?’” Dede remembers. “That he lived right there. Andy was so excited. He ran over, and they stood in the driveway talking.”
“He seemed happy,” says Price. No significant conversation was had. They just chatted and caught up, years after the fight had forever altered their lives. Gaye said goodbye, and with a smile on his face, ran back across the street, into the dark of that house.