Thirty-one years ago today, Marvin Gaye was shot to death by his father. Gaye is one of many tragic stories in Hollywood, in which the perpetrator was someone close to the victim.
The saying goes, ‘There’s no greater loss for a parent than the death of a child,’ but can you imagine when that death ends up being at the hands of the actual parent? It’s a hard pill to swallow. This, however, is what happened to Motown superstar Marvin Gaye, Jr. when he stared down the barrel of a gun held by his own father on April 1, 1984.
As today marks the 31st anniversary of Gaye’s tragic death, we take a look at some famous murders that occurred at the hands of a loved one.
R&B/Soul Singer Marvin Gaye: April 1, 1984
The fatal shooting of Motown’s “Prince of Soul,” Marvin Gaye, Jr., goes down in the record books as one of the most famous and tragic deaths in music history.
Born Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. (he later added the “e” in his surname) in 1939 in Washington, D.C., the R&B/soul singer had 18 Top 10 hit singles and is best known for such classics as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “What’s Going On,” “Let’s Get It On,” and his 1982 comeback song, the chart-topping “Sexual Healing,” which earned him two Grammy Awards.
Plagued by drug abuse, the artist moved in with his parents, preacher Marvin Gay, Sr., and Alberta Gay in the West Adams area of Los Angeles. A day before his 45th birthday on April 1, 1984 at approximately 11:38 a.m. PST, a fight broke out between father and son over the senior Marvin’s treatment of his mother during an argument over insurance papers. The fight allegedly turned physical when, as Alberta said in a 1985 Ebony article, that her son pushed and kicked his father. As the story goes, Gay Sr. allegedly retaliated with a gunshot from a .38 pistol to his son’s chest followed by a second gunshot reportedly fired at point-blank range.
Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten: August 14, 1980
At the height of her short-lived career, Playboy model/actress Dorothy Stratten suffered a tragic ending at the hands of her estranged husband, Paul Snider, founder of male stripping act, The Chippendales.
Born Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten on February 28, 1960 in Vancouver, the blonde beauty came to fame after being named Playmate in the 1979 issue of Playboy, and appearing in such movies as Skatetown, USA and Americathon the same year. She was named Playmate of the Year in 1980. The rising star married Snider in 1979, but the pair was estranged at the time of her murder. On August 14, 1980, the two met on at the couple’s former home to discuss a divorce. Instead of splitting amicably, Snider shot her to death with a shotgun and then committed suicide with the same gun. Reportedly, police believe that Snider raped and abused her corpse before pulling the trigger on himself. Both bodies were naked when police arrived.
Since her death, Stratten became the subject of two movies, a song, and several books, including Jamie Lee Curtis‘s portrayal of her in Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story, and singer Bryan Adams’s song “The Best Was Yet to Come.” She was only 20 years old when she was killed.
Actress Dominique Dunne: November 4, 1982
Just four months after appearing in the 1982 blockbuster supernatural thriller, Poltergeist, 22-year-old actress Dominique Dunne was strangled by her ex-boyfriend, sous-chef John Thomas Sweeney, at her West Hollywood home. The attack put her in a coma for five days until she was declared brain dead and taken off life support.
Dunne was the daughter of heiress Ellen Griffin and Dominick Dunne, a film producer, writer, investigative journalist, and television host, and the niece of novelists Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. Her first break as an actress came when she was cast in the 1979 movie, Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker. She soon appeared in the hit ’80s television shows, Lou Grant, Hart to Hart, and Fame, before landing her first feature film role in the Steven Spielberg-produced supernatural thriller Poltergeist.
The trouble with her boyfriend Sweeney began shortly after the two moved in together, just weeks after meeting. A few months prior to her murder, two altercations occurred, one being his first attempt on her life by strangling. In 1983, Sweeney was acquitted of the second-degree murder charge, but was still found guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and also convicted of a misdemeanor assault for a previous attack. He was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison, but only served three years and seven months.
Actor Phil Hartman: May 28, 1998
Cocaine use and alcohol reportedly contributed to Brynn Hartman’s decision to shoot her husband, actor Phil Hartman, at point-blank range with his own Smith & Wesson .38 as he slept in the bed they shared in their Encino, Calif. home. She shot him twice in the head and once on his side.
Hartman, best known for his work on Saturday Night Live, NewsRadio, and for voicing several characters on The Simpsons, had reportedly threatened to divorce his wife of 11 years, during an argument over her drug use. Along with her drug problems, which resulted in two stints in rehab, Brynn also suffered from depression. She was taking the antidepressant drug, Zoloft, at the time of the shooting.
Shortly after admitting to a friend that she killed her husband in the early morning hours of May 28, 1998, Brynn climbed into the couple’s bed where Phil’s dead body still lay and sitting up against the headboard she put the gun in her mouth and fired her own fatal shot. When police arrived, they found Brynn’s dead body slumped over that of her husband, orphaning the couple’s two children. In 1999, Hartman’s estate filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Pfizer, the manufacturer of the antidepressant drug that Brynn was taking, as well as her psychiatrist. Pfizer settled.
Bonnie Lee Bakley: May 4, 2001
Though out of the public eye for some time, Robert Blake — star of Truman Capote‘s 1967 film In Cold Blood, and the 1970’s show Baretta — became a household name again after he was charged with murdering his wife of one year, Bonnie Lee Bakley.
The high profile trial intrigue centered on Bakley’s background and the couple’s strange history. She was widely known as a con artist and for allegedly swindling men for money and had been arrested for writing $200,000 in bad checks, along with having more than 30 fake identifications. She served jail time before meeting Blake in 1999 and becoming his wife after a paternity test proved he was the father of her daughter, Rose, which she initially named Christian Shannon Brando after claiming Marlon Brando‘s son, Christian, was the father.
On May 4, 2001, the couple had dinner at a restaurant, and upon leaving the restaurant, Blake claimed to have realized that he left his revolver in the restaurant and returned to retrieve it. When he came back to the car, he found his wife dead with a gunshot wound to her head. Blake was charged with one count of murder with special circumstances, two counts of solicitation of murder, and one count of murder conspiracy. He was acquitted in 2005, but found liable for the wrongful death of his wife in the civil case filed by Bakley’s children and ordered to pay $30 million in restitution.