10 Surprising Facts About Marvin Gaye

Did you know that Marvin Gaye dreamed of joining the NFL? Or that he played the drums for Stevie Wonder? Today would have been Marvin Gaye's 75th birthday. We're looking back on the surprising highs and lows in the legendary life of Marvin Gaye.

Jolie A. Doggett Apr, 02, 2015

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Marvin Gaye added the "e" to the end of his name to dispel rumors of his homosexuality and to distinguish himself from his father, Marvin Gay Sr., with whom he did not get along. 

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When he was 17 years old, Marvin ran away from home to join the U.S. Air Force. Gaye had trouble following orders from his strict sergeant and was honorably discharged in 1956.

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Before launching a legendary solo career, Marvin Gaye joined the vocal group, The New Moonglows, in the 1950's. They performed with established singers like Chuck Berry.

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Before singing his own hit for Motown Records, a young Marvin Gaye spent his early years at Motown as a drummer for The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Marvelettes and more.

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Marvin Gaye performed most of his legendary duets ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need To Get By") with singer Tammi Terrell. Terrell died from brain cancer in 1970 and Gaye vowed never to sing with another person or on stage ever again. 

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During his hiatus from music, Marvin Gaye explored some new interests including professional football. At 31, Gaye set out to become a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions

"You see, I had this fantasy: I was in the Super Bowl, with millions of people watching me on TV all over the world, as I made a spectacular leaping catch and sprinted for the winning touchdown," he said in his biography.

The Lions' coach, Joe Schimdt, didn't want to put the singer in harm's way and refused to let him try out.

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You may or may not know that Marvin Gaye's first wife, Anna, is the eldest sister of music icon and Motown founder Berry Gordy, making Marvin an official member of the Motown family. Their divorce inspired his final album, Here, My Dear.

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Marvin Gaye secretly suffered from depression and substance abuse. In 1969, he attempted to shoot himself with a handgun but was stopped by Berry Gordy. In 1979, he ingested a full ounce of cocaine thinking it would be a "slow but pleasant death, less messy than a gun." The week of his death, Gaye jumped out of a moving car but only got minor injuries.

Marvin Gaye described his depression during an interview a year before his death. "I was at my lowest ebb. I really didn't feel like I was loved. Because I didn't feel love, I felt useless."

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Inspired by the anti-war rallies in Berkeley, Marvin Gaye wrote the classic "What's Going On" in 1970. However Motown head Barry Gordy refused to play it because it was "too political." Gaye went on strike until it was released in 1971. 

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Following his death in 1984, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry declared April 2 (the singer's birthday) Marvin Gaye Day, celebrating the life and legacy of the the iconic soul singer.