Marvin Gaye was in the middle of a pretty remarkable comeback when the NBA tapped him to perform the National Anthem at the 1983 All-Star Game. After years out of the spotlight, the soul icon scored a worldwide hit in 1982 with “Sexual Healing.” The lustful song was inescapable that year, propelling his LP Midnight Love up near the the top of the charts all over the world. While many of his Motown peers were trapped on the oldies circuit, Gaye briefly seemed like he’d be a huge commercial force in the MTV-era.
Few people realized that Gaye’s growing cocaine addiction was causing his life to spiral completely out of control. But no matter how bad things got offstage, he always managed to pull himself together when the spotlight hit. He looked like he didn’t have a care in the world when he walked onto the floor at The Forum in Inglewood, California, and delivered a spine-tingling rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He completely stripped it down, using little but his voice and a drum machine. Rehearsals were extremely shaky and organizers worried he’d blow it on the broadcast, but he managed to deliver one of the most beloved renditions of the song ever recorded.
The Eastern Conference All-Stars won the game by nine points. Julius Erving scored twenty-five points alone, and a young Larry Bird racked up fourteen. But nobody remembers any of that today. Marvin Gaye’s national anthem remains the most legendary moment of the game (and pretty much any other All-Star Game of the era).
Sadly, it was one of Gaye’s final great moments. He limped through a tour that year as he battled an increasingly horrific drug problem. And a little over a year later, he was murdered by his own father.