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Fans, stars mourn David Ruffin June 11, 1991


The man who made the lyric "I've got sunshine on a cloudy day" famous was laid to rest on an afternoon with barely a cloud in the sky.

Former Temptation singer David Ruffin was simultaneously mourned and celebrated Monday by family, friends, colleagues and fans who filled the pews and lined the streets around Detroit's New Bethel Baptist Church.

Ruffin, 50, died June 1 from a drug overdose in a Philadelphia crack house. It was as much concert as consecration, marred by rowdy crowd behavior outside the church. Ruffin's legacy and the lure of celebrities brought more than 2,000 people to the streets around New Bethel, according to police estimates.

The 2 1/2-hour ceremony in the steamy church was dominated by tributes, spoken and sung. Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ortheia Barnes and others sang. Motown Historical Museum President Esther Edwards was among those who offered personal remembrances.

The day ended with Ruffin's burial in Woodlawn Cemetery. Controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and New Bethel's pastor, the Rev. Robert Smith Jr., made anti-drug statements. Smith declared the hope that Ruffin's death "will mark a great turnaround and this will be a blessing for us all."

But no moment seemed more touching than when Temptations cofounder and leader Melvin Franklin called the surviving Temptations to the pulpit for an impromptu a cappella rendition of "My Girl" that left few eyes dry. "As long as his memory lives in our hearts, he will be immortal," Franklin said. Mentioning another original Temptation and another Motown legend, he said: "Let all of us pass his memory on to our children for generations to come, just as we have done for the late great Paul Williams and Marvin Gaye."

Ex-Temptations Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards, Ruffin's partners at the time of his death, were pall bearers, while current Tempts and the Four Tops served as honorary pall bearers. Actor/comedian Robert Townsend, Motown stars Martha Reeves and Marv Johnson, ex-Supreme Mary Wilson, Detroit singer Gino Washington and members of the Miracles, the Spinners and the Dramatics also attended. The family of Motown founder Barry Gordy Jr. was represented by Esther Edwards and her brother George Gordy. Berry Gordy Jr. sent flowers, as did Diana Ross, Michael Jackson -- who underwrote the $7,000 funeral -- Daryl Hall, John Oates and Rod Stewart. "You were a great influence on me," Stewart's card read. "Rest peacefully." Hall and Oates wrote, "He was an inspiration to us all, and we will miss him very much." "David's was a tremendous voice," said Ronnie White, the former Miracle who cowrote "My Girl" with Smokey Robinson. "David fits into a category, him and his life-style, with other people who have passed on. These people are considered by many to be geniuses in their fields, but the life-styles were similar. . . . They all kind of bordered on disaster."

Bob Knight, Ruffin's personal manager during the past three years, noted Ruffin, Kendricks and Dennis Edwards recently has finished a successful engagement in Las Vegas and a four-week tour of England, and were due to return to Europe on June 26, with a tour of Japan to follow. Knight said he was also negotiating a recording contract for the trio and a book deal for Ruffin. "Things were on the upswing," said Knight, adding that Kendricks and Edwards planned to continue as a duo. "It's a tragic loss."

Outside the church, there were several ugly episodes as fans swarmed mourners and tried to push their way into the church. Townsend practically had to be carried through the crowd, and a police officer lost her handgun during a melee. There were reports that one crowd member had a finger severed in one of the church doors. Police said, however, they had no report of such an injury. "I've never seen it like this," said church trustee Manuel Davis. "It wasn't this bad when Rev. Franklin was here," referring to the funeral of New Bethel's late pastor, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha Franklin's father. Ava Benson, 26, of Detroit was among those caught in the crush. She and her husband, Anthony, were briefly separated from their one-year-old daughter Dominique. "We were just pushed from all sides," Benson said. "It was scary." Ella Jones waited to view the funeral and see celebrities in a crowd that went eight people deep. "I just hate the way" Ruffin died, she said, "But there are some very good memories." Joyce O'Bryant, 22, had not been born when the original Temptations were at the top of the charts, but said: "I wanted to see entertainers come out and pay their last respects. I'm not too young to listen to his music. I love his music."

The fans inside also made their presence felt. Even as Kendricks was doubled over sobbing, with his head in both hands, a woman had crawled to the front pew to snap a photograph. As Mary Wilson's eyes rimmed with tears, others moved anxiously for a chance to get close, to touch her, to say hello. A church helper, an usher and several fans sought Townsend's autograph even as Ruffin was eulogized. Kendricks' day ended with legal complications; Wayne County Sheriff's deputies sought to arrest him on a delinquent child support charge. The scene moved Farrakhan to comment: "We should not be here to see our favorite entertainers. We should be here to pay respect for life itself. We should not clap our hands and mourn, for he is out of trouble. You are still in it." Farrakhan said Ruffin asked in his will that Farrakhan speak at the funeral. He said Ruffin phoned him at his Chicago office months ago and said he wanted to learn more about Islam. He was in trouble, Farrakhan said. Ruffin told him he had contracted to sing with a record label that sometimes paid him with money, sometimes with drugs. "I won't name the record label," Farrakhan said, adding Ruffin told him he no longer wanted to be "a slave.