David Ruffin

January 18, 1941 – June 1, 1991

Arguably one of the most iconic voices in American music, David Eli Ruffin spent his youth singing with his family in his native Mississippi and throughout the south. When he was 16, he followed his older brother, Jimmy, to Detroit; both with eyes on becoming recording artists. David met Berry Gordy and was able to work and record with minor labels in the area, but he failed to break through. Brother Jimmy was finding some moderate success as a solo artist and would often invite David onstage to perform with him. Jimmy caught a break by joining the Motortown Revue tour alongside acts like Marvin Gaye and the Temptations. David spent time on the tour and got to know the Temps well and in 1964 – when they had to fire Al Bryant from the group – they offered him a job.

At first, Ruffin sang background while Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks took turns at lead. But, when Motown superstar and songwriter, Smokey Robinson, turned his attention to David, he knew he had found his muse. Robinson wrote “My Girl” with Ruffin in mind. It was a massive hit. Robinson and the Temps had found the key to their success. Ruffin’s anguished and soulful voice led on the group’s follow up hits like “Since I Lost My Baby,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “I Wish It Would Rain.”

As the Temptations rocketed to fame, behind the scenes things were a mess. Ruffin had a tumultuous relationship with Motown label-mate, Tammi Terrell. He battled ghosts of his abusive childhood and became violent himself. This coupled with an increasing addiction to cocaine led to missed rehearsals and other inter-personal issues that affected the group. In addition to all of that, Ruffin – citing his role in the group’s success – grew more and more insistent that he was the focus and the Temptations should change their name to “David Ruffin and the Temptations” a la “Diana Ross and the Supremes” and other acts.

Things got worse and by 1968, as much as they loved him, the other Temptations had no choice but to fire Ruffin. He was replaced by Dennis Edwards, but Ruffin still found ways to sneak on stage and take over the mic. Eventually, he moved on and pursued a solo career. He found modest success as a solo act, but his personal issues never left him. When Tammi Terrell died in 1970, David spiraled. More drugs. Legal issues. Jail time. The whole deal. But he remained a dynamic entertainer throughout.

In the 1980s, Ruffin (along with Kendricks – who had left in 1971) rejoined a supersized Temptations line up as part of a massive reunion effort. It would not last, but after the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Ruffin, Kendricks and Edwards toured briefly as a tribute to their time with the Temps.

On June 1, 1991, 50 year-old David Ruffin collapsed in a Philadelphia drug house from a crack cocaine overdose. His friend took him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. The tortured soul was at rest and Ruffin will always be remembered as the “Classic Five” front man for the best selling R&B group of all time.

Burial

Woodlawn Cemetery – Detroit, MI

Specific Location

Section 3, Lot 243, Grave #3 – In the section behind the office, follow the southern edge road until you reach a large tree on your right, David is buried 3 rows behind this tree.

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