Death, drugs tarnish Motown's legacy

Thu Jan 15, 2009 5:55pm EST
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Some time during the 1970s, Marvin Gaye reflected on his turbulent career in an obscure tune called "Dream of a Lifetime."

"I thank God for my wonderful life," sang the Motown Records enfant terrible. "I've had my ups and downs, but I thank God."

Gaye's life ended violently in 1984. His father, a former preacher, shot him dead during a domestic dispute the day before the singer turned 45.

As Motown celebrates its 50th anniversary throughout 2009, the record label and music fans will no doubt focus on the upbeat songs and fresh-faced performers who brought joy to millions of people around the world.

Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder have become legends in their own lifetimes, but fortune was not as kind to other artists and composers who toiled in the spartan studio at "Hitsville U.S.A." near downtown Detroit.

Drugs, poverty, suicide and murder claimed many Motown figures. Gaye, a tortured soul whose stardom was marked by drugs, divorce, label disputes and bankruptcy, is probably the highest-profile casualty.

A year before Gaye was killed, virtuoso bass player James Jamerson died in obscurity. A raging alcoholic who played on Gaye's landmark 1971 album "What's Going On," Jamerson has since been deified by aficionados.

SUICIDE IN CAR   Continued...

<p>Marvin Gaye is seen in this handout photo from 1971. REUTERS/Motown Records/Handout</p>