June 1, 1991: David Ruffin died of “an adverse reaction to drugs” – namely cocaine – in a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
This was right after a successful month-long tour of England with Kendrick and Edwards. Although the cause of death was ruled an accident, Ruffin’s family and friends suspected foul play, claiming that a money belt containing the proceeds from the tour ($300,000) was missing from his body. He had just finished recording the single “Hurt the One You Love” for Motorcity Records.
In The Temptations television miniseries, Ruffin’s beaten body is depicted as being thrown from a moving car in front of a hospital, where he dies. Also stated in the miniseries was that his body remained unclaimed in a morgue for a week after his death. As a result, Ruffin’s estate filed suit against NBC and other major players involved in the making of the series, claiming defamation.
According to the plaintiffs in the case, Ruffin was actually taken to the hospital by a limousine and escorted to the waiting area by his driver, who informed the attendants of his identity. Ruffin’s estate further stated that his body was claimed by one of his children within a few days after his death. (His estate lost the lawsuit; the ruling against them was upheld on appeal.)
Davis Eli “David” Ruffin was a soul singer and musician most famous for his work as one of the lead singers of The Temptations from 1964 to 1968, otherwise known as the group’s “Classic Five” period. He was the lead voice on such famous songs as “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”
Known for his unique raspy and anguished tenor vocals, Ruffin was ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2008. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 for his work with The Temptations. Fellow Motown recording artist Marvin Gaye once said admiringly of Ruffin, “I heard [in his voice] a strength my own voice lacked.”
?Ruffin had many admirers among his fellow artists, mainly for the emotive power he brought to every song he sang.
?”Nobody could sing like David Ruffin,” said his close friend and colleague Martha Reeves (of Martha and the Vandellas fame).
?His contemporary, label-mate, and long-time acquaintance Marvin Gaye was particularly impressed with the virility of Ruffin’s voice. Gaye said Ruffin’s work “made me remember that when a lot of women listen to music, they want to feel the power of a real man.”
?Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates, one of Ruffin’s biggest fans, said, “His voice had a certain glorious anguish that spoke to people on many emotional levels.” Ruffin himself said, “I don’t know what kind of voice I have, I really don’t…it’s just about the feeling I get for the song.”
?The raspy-voiced Rod Stewart fell in love with Ruffin’s voice after he heard “I Wish It Would Rain.” “It jumped out of the speakers and ravished my soul,” Stewart exclaimed. He later became friends with Ruffin. “His voice was so powerful — like a foghorn on the Queen Mary,” Stewart told Rolling Stone magazine.
?For all of his nearly forty years in the music business, much of it with modest success, Ruffin is remembered almost exclusively for his relatively brief stint in The Temptations. The cover art of his last album, “Gentleman Ruffin,” was the inspiration on the art of rapper Wiz Khalifa’s mixtape, “Kush and Orange Juice.”
In Pop Culture:
?In 1998, NBC aired The Temptations, a four-hour television miniseries about the group’s career. Ruffin was portrayed by Leon Robinson. The actor won high praise for his portrayal of Ruffin, but the singer’s family was upset by the way the miniseries portrayed Ruffin. They filed a lawsuit against the producers of the miniseries as well as Otis Williams, whose memoir had been the source material for the miniseries. The case was dismissed in favor of the defendants, with Williams later claiming that he had no real control over the presentation of the material.
?Grand Puba of Brand Nubian referenced the singer on the 1990 single “All for One,” stating: “I hit a beat and swing a note as if my name was David Ruffin.”
?The first song on Fall Out Boy’s 2005 CD, “From Under the Cork Tree,” was slated to be titled “My Name is David Ruffin…and These are The Temptations.” Due to legal reasons, the name was changed to “Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued.”
?Hotstylz used Ruffin’s song and referred his name on their hip-hop single, “Lookin’ Boy.”
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