My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me), his first solo hit after departing The Temptations, should have been like a coronation. But as with the song’s doomed protagonist, you always knew it was going to end badly for David Ruffin.
The Mississippi-born singer (and possessor of the most famous horn-rimmed glasses since Buddy Holly) had followed his older brother Jimmy Ruffin to Detroit, where in early 1964 he became the replacement for Elbridge Bryant in the then-hitless Temptations.
A year later writer/producer Smokey Robinson showcased Ruffin on My Girl and David became the dominant presence in the group.
His hoarse, pleading baritone was soul itself, animating the tormented sentiments of (I Know) I’m Losing You, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg and I Wish It Would Rain.
Yet Ruffin’s ego was as towering as his talent, and when the spotlight finally found him with My Girl he basked in its glory. Soon he was travelling in his own limo and making cocaine-stoked demands that the group’s billing be changed to ‘David Ruffin and The Temptations’.
The group maintained that no singer was bigger than the team, and proved it by firing the star in 1968.
My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me) was a big record for a big artist. Produced by Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, it featured a track of Temptations-worthy funk and stirring orchestral rococo, over which David delivered an impassioned and desperate performance that only Levi Stubbs among his labelmates might have matched.
When this single was released in January 1969, however, The Temptations were on top with Cloud Nine, the record that ushered in a new Motown era. Instead of consolidating his own success, Ruffin could be witnessed trying to force his way on-stage at Temptations shows, unable to accept that his old group had the temerity to move ahead without him.
A non-writer, David depended upon the beneficence of the Motown machine to keep his hits coming.
His intensifying diva behaviour, erratic performances, escalating cocaine and other abuse (dark rumours still swirl around his turbulent relationship with Tammi Terrell) consigned him to the ‘more trouble than it’s worth’ category where he was no longer granted access to the A-list songs and producers.
He would have an even bigger hit with Walk Away From Love in 1975, but every attempt at career momentum was derailed by the same self-sabotaging demons.
By the time of his drug-related death in a crack house in West Philadelphia in 1991, it was too tragically easy to read the title of David Ruffin’s first solo hit as his epitaph.