Marvin Gaye’s second wife, Janis Hunter Gaye, has died, her family announced Wednesday. She was 66.
Hunter Gaye is the mother of two of Marvin Gaye’s three children, actress/singer Nona Gaye and Frankie Gaye. He had another child, Marvin Gaye, Jr. who he adopted with his first wife Anna Gordy. Gaye Jr.’s biological mother is Denise Gordy, also the mother of actress Bianca Lawson.
Hunter was found dead Saturday in her home in Rhode Island. No cause of death has been revealed.
Nona Gaye confirmed her mother’s death to The Hollywood Reporter.
“From the time she met my father, she was exposed to the way he saw this world was aching, and she did her best to preserve his legacy as he was taken from us far too early,” Nona said in a statement. “She took every moment to speak about every word and every note of his music, and she wanted to make sure everyone knew the man she fell in love with. I will never get to see her again in this life but know she’s in heaven with my father and a spokesperson for us in spirit.”
Hunter Gaye married Marvin Gaye in 1977 after welcoming Nona in 1974 and Frankie in 1977. The couple divorced in 1981. Gaye was fatally shot by his father after a dispute on April 1,1984.
In her 2015 memoir, After the Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye, Janis described her relationship with the Motown legend as sometimes abusive, as Marvin struggled throughout the latter half of his life with drug and alcohol addiction. Marvin met Janis at a Los Angeles recording studio when she was 17. He was 33 and started dating her while still married to Anna, leading to a bitter divorce chronicled on his 1978 album Here, My Dear.
“At any given moment there were times when it was difficult to write and difficult to look back on certain times in my 10 plus years with Marvin,” Hunter Gaye told WBLS’ Lenny Green when the book came out. “I can’t really single out one chapter that was more difficult than any other. Some were difficult because I was opening up myself to criticism and letting people know that I was no saint. But at the same time, Marvin was a man. He was a human being who had flaws just like we all do.”
Hunter Gaye likened her own relationship with Gaye to her mother’s with pioneering jazz musician and actor Slim Gaillard. She was the result of that relationship. Hunter Gaye said in her memoir that the women in her family transferred generational trauma through their troubled relationships with musicians.
Nona, who Hunter Gaye managed in her active years as a singer and actress when she appeared in movies like Crash, The Matrix series, Triple XXX: State of the Union and Ali, recorded the song and video for “Love Sign” with Prince, who she dated for two years.
“Every word from her mouth was from her soul. She never said anything she didn’t mean,” Nona’s statement continued. “I know her drive and influence from the time she was 17 until the day she died was all about her family and family that extended beyond blood — brothers, sisters in every part of this beautiful and painful planet.”
Gaye wrote the song “Jan” for Hunter Gaye for his Marvin Gaye Live album, and she was the inspiration for his I Want You album, released in 1976. She provides backgrounds on the song “Got to Give It Up,” the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit against Pharrell Williams, rapper T.I., and Robin Thicke for their 2013 hit, “Blurred Lines.” The Gaye family won the suit.
Despite the challenges Janis dealt with in their relationship from their age difference to having to contend with infidelity, drugs, and emotional abuse, Hunter Gaye told Green, “I don’t regret anything.”
Hunter Gaye is survived by her daughter, son, and grandson, Nolan, her sister Shawnn and brother Mark Gaillard. A public ceremony will be announced at a later date. The family has asked that any donations in her honor be made to Arms Around the Child, Breathe With Me Revolution, and Fund a Mom.