Kendricks' tenor made it impossible to resist Temptations APPRECIATION

October 07, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

DETROIT — Last year, Eddie Kendricks sat in a pew in Detroit's New Bethel Baptist Church, hunched over and weeping steadily as he said farewell to David Ruffin -- his singing partner in and out of the Temptations.

Ruffin's death was "tough on Eddie," said a friend seated nearby. "They've been through a lot together. They loved each other, hated each other, but they were always better together than they were apart."

At 10:35 p.m. Monday, Mr. Kendricks joined his partner in death, succumbing to lung cancer in Birmingham, Ala. He was 52.

Mr. Kendricks had a lung removed last year. He blamed the cancer on 30 years of smoking, and he urged children not to smoke. He had been in Baptist Medical Center-Princeton since Sept. 25.

Mr. Kendricks is the third member of the Temptations' peak lineup to die. In August 1973, Paul Williams was found in his parked car after apparently shooting himself in the head.

And in June 1991, Ruffin died of a drug overdose after a limousine driver mysteriously dropped him off at a Philadelphia hospital.

That leaves Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin surviving from the Temptations, widely considered the world's most successful male vocal group from 1964 to 1971.

"Those Temptations, they were the greatest," said Motown XTC museum chief Esther Edwards, sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and at one time the Temptations' personal manager. "Eddie was a wonderful singer and a very quiet-spoken, nice person. He was just kind of lovable."

Detroit attorney Gregory Reed, who has represented Mr. Kendricks, recalled the singer as "a very spiritual individual, a very serene person. He did not like to cause any conflict."

Mostly, however, the world will remember Mr. Kendricks as the striking tenor who sang Motown favorites.

"Nobody sings like Eddie," Ruffin said in 1985. "You stand next to him and you almost forget to sing your parts because what he's doing is so beautiful."

Edward James Kendricks was born Dec. 17, 1939, in Birmingham. Learning to sing in church and with friends, he and high school buddy Paul Williams moved north. They went to Cleveland, where they formed a group called the Cavaliers; when they broke up, Mr. Kendricks and Williams went out on their own.

Through a manager, Milton Jenkins, Mr. Kendricks and Williams moved to Detroit and joined a vocal group called the Primes. In the early '60s, the Primes merged with another Detroit vocal group, the Distants, and renamed themselves the Elgins.

The group was signed first to Berry Gordy's Miracle label and then switched to the Gordy label around the time they changed their name to the Temptations.

After a few unsuccessful early singles, Mr. Kendricks led the Temptations into the Top 20 with his buoyant vocal for the Smokey Robinson-penned "The Way You Do the Things You Do" in 1964.

This began the peak period of the Temptations.

Mr. Kendricks sang the lead on "Get Ready" in 1966, and he teamed up with Diana Ross for "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," a collaboration with the Supremes.

After the departure of Ruffin -- who scored the Temptations' first No. 1 with "My Girl" -- Mr. Kendricks shared lead vocals with Dennis Edwards on the group's second No. 1 hit, "I Can't Get Next to You," and then took the sole lead on the group's third No. 1, the lovely "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)."

That proved to be Mr. Kendricks' swan song with the Tempts. "never, ever wanted to leave the group," he told Fred Bronson, author of the "Billboard Book of Number One Hits." "I never thought about leaving. The only reason I left is because I wasn't allowed to record on my own."

Mr. Kendricks' solo career got off to a fast start. He hit No. 1 in 1973 with "Keep on Truckin' (Part 1)" and No. 2 a year later with "Boogie Down." But Mr. Kendricks was unable to sustain the success.

His career got a couple of boosts during the '80s. He took part in a Temptations reunion in 1982, and in 1985, he and Ruffin teamed up with Darryl Hall and John Oates for a medley of Temptations hits that became a hit single.

The reunion of Ruffin and Mr. Kendricks continued -- later adding Dennis Edwards -- until Ruffin's death.

At Ruffin's funeral, Mr. Kendricks was arrested for failing to pay $26,000 to his first wife, Pat. Police were ready to lead him to jail, but others intervened and Mr. Kendricks stayed at the ceremony.

Gold records and awards from his Motown days dot the walls ohis mother's house in Birmingham. The Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

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