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David Ruffin
Image via Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

What happened to David Ruffin from The Temptations?

The Temptations' singer's life came to a tragically premature end.

American vocal group The Temptations is among the most successful acts in the history of popular music. They’ve had over 20 members and are still active today, but the most famous lineup — the quintet known as the “Classic Five” from 1964 until 1968 — was Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, and David Ruffin.

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Otis Williams is still with us, but Franklin, Kendricks, Paul Williams, and Ruffin have sadly passed. Franklin and Kendricks died from heart failure and lung cancer, respectively, while Williams lost his life to an apparent suicide in 1973. Ruffins’ death, however, was perhaps the most talked about.

Ruffin had enjoyed a hugely prosperous career, dabbling in the soul, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, disco, and pop music genres. He earned significant success as a member of The Temptations and as a solo artist. His most famous songs include “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” with the group and “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)” and “Walk Away from Love” on his own. The fact he was so revered makes his premature death all the more tragic.

What happened to David Ruffin?

David Ruffin
Image via Gilles Petard/Redferns

Suffice it to say that David Ruffin was no angel. He had several known relationships with women and married twice — to Sandra Barnes in 1961 and Joy Hamilton in 1976 — and the former was marred by controversy.

In 1966, he began dating Motortown Revue performer Tammi Terrell, surprising her with a marriage proposal soon after. However, after saying “yes” and announcing her engagement to Ruffin on stage, Terrell discovered Ruffin was still married to Barnes. Their relationship ended in 1967 after Ruffin struck her head with his motorbike helmet.

Another relationship with Genna Sapia, with whom Ruffin had a son, David, has been revealed to be toxic. Sapia’s 2003 book, A Memoir: David Ruffin – My Temptation, describes how Ruffin was abusive and regularly unfaithful.

Ruffin also endured several legal issues during his life. In 1978, the star was charged with disorderly conduct for “refusing several requests” to leave a party he was being disruptive at. In 1982, he was imprisoned and fined $5,000 for failing to pay over $300,000 in taxes. In 1986, he was fined $150 for receiving and concealing a stolen Colt .32-caliber handgun. In 1987, he spent a night in jail after being found with cocaine in his possession and was put on probation for two years.

Drug addiction was, in fact, at the heart of and to blame for most of Ruffin’s issues. In 1989, he completed a 28-day drug treatment program after being ordered to attend New York’s Areba Casriel Institute for violating his probation.

On June 1, 1991, it would be drugs that eventually killed David Ruffin. He was frequenting a crack house in West Philadelphia with his friend Donald Brown when he collapsed. Brown took Ruffin to the University of Pennsylvania’s hospital, where doctors declared him dead in the early hours of the morning from an accidental overdose of crack cocaine.

Talented creatives are so often troubled souls and David Ruffin undoubtedly fell into that category. Hopefully, he is now at peace.

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Kevin Stewart
Kevin is a freelance writer at We Got This Covered. He's been writing and editing for various publications worldwide since 2013, mainly about movies, TV, and sports. He's had more than 2000 pieces of writing published. He loves to travel, watch movies (horror, superhero stuff, and '80s films are his favorites), and keep fit. Kevin has a degree in Business Management, once appeared on British TV quiz show The Chase, and regularly asks #KevsMovieQuestions on his X (formerly Twitter).