June 1st marked 10 years since the passing of David Eli Ruffin, former lead singer of The Temptations. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee was ranked among the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” by Rolling Stone magazine only three years ago.
Ruffin was raised in Whynot, Mississippi with a strict father, stepmother and three siblings. The family sang together as a gospel group among greats like Mahalia Jackson and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. Ruffin never knew his biological mother, who passed away after he was born, and felt the loss of his older sister, Rosetta. By age 15, Ruffin was on a jazz tour with Phineas Newborn Jr., meeting performers like Elvis Presley, The Staples Singers and Little Richard.
Teaming up with Berry Gordy in 1957, Ruffin lived with Gordy’s father for a short period of time while stuffing records alongside Marvin Gaye at the Anna Records studio, owned by Gordy’s sister. After a few solo recordings, Ruffin was asked to join his brother Jimmy’s group, The Temptations, in 1964. Later that year, Smokey Robinson wrote “My Girl” with Ruffin on lead vocals, giving his voice a chance to be heard.
Unfortunately, by 1967, Ruffin had an addiction to cocaine, and the group suffered. His egotistical demands caused the group to replace him with Dennis Edwards in 1968. Though he was no longer the group lead, Ruffin would occasionally appear on stage and take the mic from Edwards during performances. He would be forced to finish his contract with Motown as a solo artist.
Ruffin continued to record several albums, including the platinum hit, “Walk Away From Love.” He later collaborated with Eddie Kendrick and Rick James in the 1980s. This was also the decade he was sent to prison several times related to drugs and tax evasion.
Ruffin died in June 1991 from a cocaine overdose. Reports of his last days alive and his portrayal in movies has been disputed in courts by his family.