His father, The Reverend Marvin Pentz Gay, Sr. was an American fundamentalist minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and later a spin-off sect called the House of God. Born on a farm along Catnip Hill Pike in Jessamine County, Kentucky to George and Marnie Gay on October 1, 1914, Gay lived a difficult childhood as a loner and struggled with his father's physical abuse towards him and his twelve siblings. Gay eventually entered ministry in his late teens joining a Pentecostal Church as a pastor in a church in Washington, D.C. where he and wife Alberta Cooper, from North Carolina, raised their family of four children: daughters Jeanne (b. 1937) and Zeola (b. 1944) and sons Marvin, Jr. (1939-1984) and Frankie (1941-2001). After leaving his church, he formed a spin-off sect called the House of God and spent most of his time as a storefront preacher taking his sermons to different churches where he often took his eldest son to sing gospel songs.
Despite the often stormy and troubling relationship between father and son, Marvin Jr. often dedicated some of his famous works to his father, including "God is Love" from his What's Going On album, "Everybody Needs Love" from Here, My Dear, where he states that his father, like him, "needed love", and "Joy", which he dedicated on his father bringing him up in church, Marvin often mentioned how he was influenced by his father's sermons during his concert tours. At one point, Marvin even had his father on with him during a The Midnight Special show where Marvin allowed his father to give him advice. Marvin, Jr. then embraced his father in a rare moment that proved to be prophetic as Marvin got older.
By the 1970s, Gay Sr. had proven to be too difficult to continue his ministry. A longtime alcoholic, he continued to allegedly live his double life. At this point, Gay, Sr. and his wife Alberta's relationship had gotten worse. After moving his parents to a mansion he bought for them in Crenshaw, Los Angeles, California in 1972, Gay Sr. would often leave Los Angeles for D.C. and the Gays were said to be separated by the time Marvin headed to his mother's aid following the end of his financially successful U.S. tour in 1983. However, Marvin, Jr. had gotten ill due to his drug addiction and much like his father, struggled with substance abuse while still reading from the Bible. Marvin Sr. returned to Los Angeles in October 1983 and Marvin Sr. and Marvin Jr.'s often difficult relationship continued to deteriorate. On Christmas Day, 1983, Marvin Jr. gave his father a handgun to help protect him from an alleged plot on his life. On the night of March 31, 1984, Marvin, Sr. started an argument with Alberta over misplaced business documents, insulting her during a drunken tirade, Marvin Jr. awoke to their argument and attacked his father only verbally. The following morning, April 1, an ill Marvin Jr. and his father again started a heated argument that led to a physical confrontation between the two of them in which Marvin shoved his father to the ground. Marvin's father was to have said, "I'm not gonna stand for this embarrassment" and got the gun Marvin Jr. had given to him. He went into his room shooting his son twice (in the shoulder and chest) killing him instantly on the day before Marvin was to have turned forty-five.
After Marvin Jr.'s death, Alberta filed for divorce after 47 years of marriage. Marvin, Sr.'s other three children were estranged from their father, as well as Marvin's own children. Marvin Sr. also was noticeably absent from Marvin, Jr.'s star-studded funeral. During his time in jail, when asked if he hated his son, Marvin Sr. said, "well, let's just say that I didn't dislike him." Originally charged with first-degree murder, the charges were dropped when doctors examined Marvin Sr. and discovered that the then 69-year-old suffered a brain tumor. He agreed to serve five years probation for the crime, after pleading no contest to voluntary manslaughter. During sentencing, Marvin Sr. tearfully stated to the court that he wished he had not killed his son and that he could take it all back. Later sent to a rest home for the remainder of his life, he died of pneumonia in Culver City, California on October 10, 1998 just nine days after turning 84. Impromptu 1970s, 1970's, 70s, 70's, seventies, 1977