In 1977, sixteen year old Janis Hunter married soul singer Marvin Gaye becoming his second wife following Gaye’s earlier marriage to Anna Gordy, the younger sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Their marriage produced two children before the couple divorced several years later. Now in her later years, Janis tells her story of what her life was like being married to the legendary recording artist. As a starstruck teenage girl, she easily falls head over heels for the soul singer whose seductive charming personality, good looks and fast track lifestyle captured her heart and interest. Following the wedding bells, reality set in and a host of demons that plagued Gaye throughout his life rise to the surface transforming the fairy tale marriage into a relationship destined to implode. Marvin’s life was an enigma in itself and it can be said that he never did find peace on earth. His ability to self-destruct and engage in life threatening behavior became staples of his career and were factors in his death after a violent confrontation with his father on April 1, 1984. Depression, a dysfunctional relationship with his father and narcotics formed a deadly triumvirate from which Gaye was never able to escape. Janis became first hand witnesses to this and as a result of her close proximity to him, she also faced her own demons that threatened to consume her own life. This is the true story of what really did happen when she married the man that was once Motown’s prince.
It may seem absurd to some that she was only sixteen when she married Gaye. But surprisingly, the marriage was consented to by her family. Had they voiced opposition perhaps this book would not exist. As Janis tells us herself, sixteen was a young age to be married but when Marvin Gaye is pursuing you it is tough to turned down an invitation that millions of other women would love to have had. Clearly in awe of him and his many social connections including Margot Kidder, Teddy Pendergrass, Frankie Beverly and other stars formed a surreal atmosphere that Marvin used to cover up his demons from which he could never escape.
Drugs, mistrust and infidelity began to swarm around the marriage causing a pattern of self-destruction from which the couple never recovered. And in the book, there are several episodes recounted by Janet that will cause the reader to wonder how Gaye was even able to function at times. As a father of two children, his instability of mental and emotional levels threatened to put their lives in turmoil and their safety is in the hands of their mother Janis. But what happens when the mother is being dragged down the same self-destructive path as the father. For Janis, this was her reality and as she realizes the man she loves will also be her downfall, she gathers the strength and courage to finally part ways with him. But the struggle was not easy and she admits to her own shortcomings including her relationships with Pendergrass and Beverly. Beverly is featured throughout the book and for good reason; Marvin was the one who discovered him and his band Maze who went on to become legends in the genre of rhythm and blues.
As outrageous as the story is at times, it is necessary to remember that this was the life a woman who had not yet reached twenty years of age for the early part of their marriage. Her youth was unconventional and shaped in part by a destructive spouse unable to face his own demons. Thankfully she did not follow Marvin down the path of destruction and is alive today to live the only life that she has. I know that she will never forget her time with him and will always love him. This look inside the private life of Marvin Gaye is a good memoir of one of music’s most tragic figures.