Jimmy Ruffin, the Motown singer whose hits include “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” and “Hold on to My Love,” died Monday in a Las Vegas hospital. He was 78.
Philicia Ruffin and Jimmy Lee Ruffin Jr., the late singer’s children, confirmed Wednesday that Ruffin had died. Ruffin had been hospitalized in September, where he developed pneumonia and further complications. An official cause of death has not been released, daughter Philicia Ruffin said.
The underrated silky-voiced singer soul-singer had the chance to join The Temptations, the Motown hit-making group. But instead, he said he allowed the opportunity to go to his younger brother David.
“I was working and my brother wasn’t, so I suggested him for the job and he got it,” he said in a 1966 interview. “I think I’m much happier working as a single than I would be in a group.”
The Mississippi-born Ruffin who had a performing career that spanned 50 years, from the ’60s heyday of Motown Records to the digital music era was the older brother of Temptations lead singer David Ruffin, who died in 1991 at age 50.
“Jimmy Ruffin was a rare type of man who left his mark on the music industry. My family in its entirety is extremely upset over his death. He will truly be missed,” a statement from Philicia Ruffin and the Ruffin family said. “We will treasure the many fond and wonderful memories we all have of him.”
Singer Rod Stewart learned of Ruffin’s death in Las Vegas, where he was doing a show, his spokesperson said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. “RIP, Jimmy. Heaven has never sounded so sweet,” Stewart said.
Jimmy Lee Ruffin was born on May 7, 1936, in Collinsville, Mississippi. He was signed to Berry Gordy’s Motown Records, and had a string of hits in the 1960s, including “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” which became a Top 10 pop hit. The song reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #6 on the R&B Chart. It also initially reached #10 in the UK singles chart, rising to #4 when it was reissued in the UK in 1974. “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” remained Ruffin’s best-known song. Follow-ups in the US were successful, with “I’ve Passed This Way Before” and “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got”
He had continued success with songs such as “I’ve Passed This Way Before” and “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got,” reaching the US charts in late 1966 and early 1967, but Ruffin marked a comeback in 1980 with his second Top 10 hit, “Hold on to My Love.” The song was produced by Robin Gibb, the Bee Gees member who died in 2012.
“Jimmy Ruffin was a phenomenal singer,” said Motown founder Berry Gordy in a statement issued by the Universal Music Group, which now owns the famous Detroit-born label. Gordy described “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” as “one of the greatest songs put out by Motown and also one of my personal favorites.”
Ruffin worked with his brother David in the 1970s on the album, “I Am My Brother’s Keeper.” Ruffin also lived in England for many years.
Funeral arrangements are pending, the family said.
“We appreciate all of the love and prayers from our family, friends, his colleagues and his adoring fans,” the statement said.
In an interview with the BBC in 1999, Mr. Ruffin recounted how he came to record “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” The song, written by James Dean, William Weatherspoon and Paul Riser, was originally intended for the Spinners, another Motown group. But one day in the Motown studios, he said, he heard Mr. Dean singing it.
“The song had the kind of words one can feel,” he recalled, “and it was a beautiful, melodic song.” When told that the Spinners were scheduled to cut the song, he said, “I told him to give it to me instead,” and Mr. Dean let him record a demonstration tape.
He added, “He liked my version enough to let me have it.”
“He (Ruffin) was a wonderful human being, quiet and unassuming, who touched many lives with his music, not just here in the States, but overseas, as well,” Gordy added. “Jimmy Ruffin will always be a part of the Motown legacy, and I extend my sincere condolences to his family, friends and fans.”