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How Did Temptations Singer David Ruffin Die?

how did temptations singer eddie kendricks die image of the temptations in 1964 how did the temptations singer david ruffin die
Image is in the Public Domain

He was the raspy, anguish-sounding tenor vocalist deemed one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2008 and 2023. No one can think of the Temptations without including David Ruffin, as he brought life to some of the group’s most famous hits. Sadly, his life, both professionally and personally, was lined with struggle, and it was a big part of his final demise. 

Who was David Ruffin? How did Temptations singer David Ruffin die? Find out that and more below. 

How Did Temptations Singer David Ruffin Die?

David Ruffin’s cause of death was the result of an accidental drug overdose. This cause of death was not an all-around surprise to many as David Ruffin had been dealing with drug cocaine addiction and drug abuse for years, entering treatment for the first time in 1967. He had also been arrested several times for cocaine possession, among other issues. 

According to reports from police, the evening of David Ruffin’s death, he collapsed at a West Philadelphia crack house, explaining why the drug overdose was from a crack cocaine overdose. Ruffin had gone there with his friend Donald Brown, who drove Ruffin to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Ruffin was officially declared deceased at 3:55 a.m. from “an adverse reactions to drugs (cocaine).” This was after those in the emergency room were unable to revive him. 

According to The Associated Press, “Ruffin and a man named William Nowell split ten vials of crack cocaine inside of Nowell’s West Philadelphia home hours before he died.” 

While Ruffin’s death was officially ruled an accident, foul play was suspected by his family and friends. One reason for that suspicion was because $40,000, kept in a money belt, was missing from his body. 

Despite the official reports, the rumors surrounding David Ruffin’s cause of death have continued to circulate, and they were not made any better by the television miniseries The Temptations, which has caused many to ask the question, “Where was David Ruffin found when he died?” 

The NBC series was later sued by David Ruffin’s estate, claiming defamation as it suggested that Ruffin was beaten to death and dumped in the street in front of a hospital. Additionally, the miniseries indicated that it took a week for his deceased body to be claimed as it sat in the morgue. During the case, the plaintiff confirmed that he was taken to the hospital by a limousine, was escorted into the emergency, and attendants were told of his identity. Plus, David Ruffin’s children said his body was claimed within just a few days of Ruffin’s death. 

Sadly, David Ruffin’s estate lost the lawsuit, and the ruling was upheld upon appeal. 

Related: 34 Best Music Documentaries

When Did David Ruffin Die?

David Ruffin passed away on June 1, 1991. 

He was survived by his four children, and he was also survived by his girlfriend at the time. 

How Old Was David Ruffin When He Died?

David Ruffin was 50 years old when he passed away. 

how did paul williams temptations singer die
Photo of the music group The Temptations in 1968 by Motown Records. Image is in the public domain.

Where is David Ruffin Buried?

David Ruffin was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan, in section three of the cemetery. His burial came after David Ruffin’s funeral was held at New Bethel Baptist Church. During David Ruffin’s funeral, the Tempations’ surviving members sang “My Girl” while Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder also performed. 

Who paid for David Ruffin’s funeral? Get ready for your heart to swell because, although he didn’t attend, the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, volunteered to pay for all the funeral expenses. Additionally, floral arrangements were sent by such high-profile names as Diana Ross, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, the Spinners, Rod Stewart, and Daryl Hall and John Oates. 

Related: How Did Michael Jackson Die? 

Who Inherited David Ruffin’s Money?

At the time of David Ruffin’s death, his career had built him a staggering net worth of approximately $150 thousand. While the terms of David Ruffin’s will have never been disclosed, it is believed that his estate was most likely inherited by his children. It’s possible that David Ruffin’s will also named his siblings or even his girlfriend as benefactors. 

Related: How Did Temptations Singer Melvin Franklin Die?

When was David Ruffin Born?

David Ruffin’s birthdate was January 18, 1941. 

David Ruffin’s Zodiac sign was Capricorn. That meant he had a lot of interesting traits in his character, including being hardworking, direct, honest, persistent, loyal, and more. 

Where was David Ruffin From?

David Ruffin was born and raised in Whynot, Mississippi. 

Where Did David Ruffin Live?

David Ruffin was living in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when he passed away. 

How Tall was David Ruffin?

David Ruffin’s height was 6 feet, 3 inches tall. 

How Did David Ruffin Become Famous?

David Ruffin’s claim to fame was when he joined the Temptations in 1964. From there, he became the voice that everyone knew on such signature songs as “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “My Girl,” “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” and many, many more. 

Related: How Did Paul Williams The Temptations Singer Die?

the temptations star on the hollywood walk of fame
Image from Shutterstock.

David Ruffin’s Parents

David Ruffin was the third son of Baptist minister and truck driver Elias “Eli” Ruffin and Ophelia Ruffin, his wife, who died from complications of childbirth just 10 months after he was born. 

Both were Mississippi natives, having previously moved there from Alabama following the harsh circumstances of the post-Civil War era. His paternal great-grandparents, John and Clara Ruffin, were originally from Bertie County, North Carolina. The former was also a Civil War veteran, having served and fought with the 14th United States Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment. 

After his mother’s death in 1941, his father married his stepmother, Earline, a schoolteacher, in 1942. 

David Ruffin’s Siblings

David Ruffin was one of five children and the third son. David Ruffin’s brothers included Quincy B. Ruffin and Jimmy Lee Ruffin, while David Ruffin’s sisters were Rita Mae Ruffin and Rosine, who was just an infant when she died. 

Related: How Did Temptations Singer Eddie Kendricks Die?

Who Was David Ruffin Married To?

David Ruffin was married twice in his life, although both were dissolved by the time he died. 

David Ruffin’s first wife was Sandra Barnes, whom he married in 1961. Just a few years into their marriage, Ruffin and Barnes had split, and he was dating Genna Sapia. Unfortunately, that relationship ended after several years, and he went on to marry his second wife, Joy Hamilton, in 1976. 

His relationship with Sapia continued to have an impact after Ruffin’s death, as she added “Ruffin” to her last name in tribute. She later wrote the book A Memoir; David Ruffin – My Temptation in 2003. The book goes into explicit detail about both Ruffin’s infidelity and his abusive behavior. 

His infidelity in his relationships was made evident in his relationship with Tammi Terrell, whom he began dating in 1966 while still married to Barnes, which Terrell only found out about when he proposed to her, and she subsequently announced the engagement while on stage performing. That isn’t ultimately what ended their relationship; instead, it was his abusive behavior, which came to a head after he hit her in the head with his motorcycle helmet. Sadly, she would die of a brain tumor three years later in 1970. 

Ruffin’s final known relationship was with Diana Showers, whom he’d been living with since 1989 in Philadelphia. The pair met when Showers was just 14 years old. 

Related: How Did Temptations Singer Dennis Edwards Die?

David Ruffin’s Children

David Ruffin had four children. David Ruffin’s daughters, Cheryl, Nedra, and Kimberly, were born from his relationship with his first wife, Sandra Barnes. David Ruffin’s son, David E. Sapia, later named David Eli Ruffin, Jr., was born from his relationship with Genna Sapia. 


When David Ruffin first started out in the music business, having spent years performing in a gospel group with his family, opening up for Mahalia Jackson and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and others, he tried his best to make it as a solo artist. In the late 1950s, he released such David Ruffin’s songs as “You and I” and “Believe Me” under the stage name “Little David Bush.”

For the next several years, he would work with such acts as Marvin Gaye, who once said of him, “I heard [in his voice] a strength my own voice lacked,” Billy Davis, and Berry Gordy Jr. The latter’s sister, Gwen Gordy Fuqua, who ran Anna Records, told Detroit Free Press in 1988, “[Ruffin] was very much a gentleman, yes ma’am and no ma’am, but the thing that really impressed me about David was that he was one of the only artists I’ve seen who rehearsed like he was on stage.”

Upon making all these connections, his career was off and running, it seemed, recording more songs like “I’m in Love” and “One of These Days.” Then, fate stepped in when he met the Temptations, whom he eventually joined in 1964.

For the next four years, David Ruffin became one of the legendary voices of the group. Along with such hits as “My Girl,” he also was the featured lead on hits like “It’s Growing” and “Since I Lost My Baby” in 1965, “Beauty is Only Skin Deep” in 1966, “I Wish It Would Rain” in 1967, and finally, “You’re My Everything” in 1967, for which he shared the lead vocals with Eddie Kendricks.

Sadly, as things went on, Ruffin’s drug addiction, particularly to cocaine, caused tensions within the group as he started missing rehearsals and performances. He was finally fired from the group on June 27, 1968, after missing a Cleveland, Ohio, date earlier that month. While he later temporarily returned after bombarding several of the group’s performances, he was dropped again when the same behavior continued.

What happened to David Ruffin after the Temptations?

Even after David Ruffin left the Temptations, he was still under contract with Motown Records, despite his initial lawsuit against the label to be released. Because of that, he embarked on his solo career. Although it wasn’t as successful as his time with the popular group, he did achieve some notoriety in 1969 with his song, “My Whole World Ended (the Moment You Left Me).” 

What Was David Ruffin’s biggest hit?

David Ruffin’s song “Walk Away From Love,” released in 1975, was easily the biggest hit of his career. The song was his final top 10 hit and the only song he ever released to appear on the UK charts. 

He finally left Motown Records in 1977 and subsequently recorded David Ruffin albums So Soon We Change and Gentleman Ruffin for Warner Bros. His final label was RCA Records, with former Temptations bandmate Eddie Kendricks by his side. 

Even with his reasonably successful solo career, the Temptations will always be how fans know him best, and he seemed to know it, too, rejoining the group in 1982 to record their Reunion album. Later, in 1989, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the group. 


There is no doubt that David Ruffin’s life, both professionally and personally, was a tumultuous one, and his death is proof. Despite his mistakes, though, there is no doubt that he was a musical legend as the voice behind some of the greatest hits of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. It’s the perfect example of being able to make greatness of yourself and that your mistakes won’t always be what defines you the most. 

Rest in peace, David Ruffin. 

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Written by Katie Peterson

Katie Peterson received her bachelor's degree in English from the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth in 2015. She has worked in journalism since 2015, beginning as production assistant and eventual head staff writer of the Fort Leavenworth Lamp newspaper in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Currently, she is a multimedia journalist with the Diocese of Nashville's Office of Media and Evangelization where she writes, does photography, and edits for several types of content, including the Tennessee Register, Catholic Awakenings, and She has also worked as a freelance journalist with the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas's newspaper, The Leaven, since 2016.
In her spare time, Peterson enjoys reading, spending time with her pup, Sadie Lynn, singing and songwriting.


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