A Look at Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Relationship With His Late Father, Cuba Gooding Sr.

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Cuba Gooding Sr. and actor Cuba Gooding Jr.
Cuba Gooding Sr. and actor Cuba Gooding Jr. at the afterparty for “American Gangster” in 2007. (Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Soul singer Cuba Gooding Sr., father of Cuba Gooding Jr., was found dead in his car in the Woodland Hills area of Los Angeles on Thursday from a suspected drug overdose. He was 72.

Gooding Sr. rose to fame as the lead vocalist of the Grammy-nominated R&B/pop ensemble, the Main Ingredient, but his star was eventually outshone by his son, Cuba Gooding Jr. The two had a difficult love-hate relationship over the years.

“Most of the time I’m cussing out [my dad] as respectfully as possible, and I still tell him ‘I love you’ at the end of the day,” Gooding Jr. told Vibe in 2007.

After the singer hit it big with “Everybody Plays the Fool” in 1972, the Goodings relocated from New York to Los Angeles. Life was good for the Goodings. When the family moved to California, they were put up in a big house as stipulated in Cuba Sr.’s record contract. The actor has even referred to his upbringing as “entitled,” due to the perks of his father’s profession. However, those disappeared as quickly as they came.

“We lived in a big house and had chauffeurs,” Gooding Jr. told the magazine, “and then in fifth grade … bang! Rock bottom.”

Gooding Sr. separated from his wife, Shirley, in 1974 and tried to maintain a successful career. Meanwhile, Shirley and her children — she had four, including Cuba and Omar, with her husband — and went through stretches of being evicted, living on welfare and even in their car (this situation forced Cuba Jr. to bury his Great Dane in a garbage can). The actor took odd jobs here and there — like pulling weeds in the desert terrain of Victorville, Calif. — just to get by.

“I’d get out of there eight hours later with three bucks,” Cuba told Vibe. “Which was closer to the $13.50 we needed to buy milk, rice, and beans.”

Shirley Gooding added of her son, “He gave up his childhood in order to help me take care of the family.”

Gooding Sr. remembered the bad times as well, telling the same outlet, “I was struggling trying to regain the financial, creative ability, and celebrity status that I had, which was devastating for Shirley and the kids.”

The bad times didn’t last. Cuba Gooding Jr. hit it big and 20 years after splitting, Shirley and Cuba Gooding Sr. married again in 1995. “I came back home for Thanksgiving and never left,” Gooding Sr. recalled to the magazine.

Cuba Gooding Jr, Shirley Gooding, Sarah Kapfer and Cuba Gooding Sr.
Cuba Gooding Jr, Shirley Gooding, Sara Kapfer, and Cuba Gooding Sr. at Sony’s Oscar bash in 1997. (Photo: BEI/BEI/Shutterstock)

Gooding Jr. told Vibe, “That son of a b**** is the most brilliant con man.” Still, he was happy his parents remarried, even sending them on a second honeymoon to Barbados.

“My wife and I divorced because it was a case of children raising children,” Gooding Sr. reflected in a 2000 interview. “People in show business should wait until 35 to have kids.” He was 22 the first time he and Shirley wed.

Gooding Sr. also had a larger than life personality, like his son. Cuba remembered when he had to ban his father from the set of Jerry Maguire.

“He gave Tom Cruise a hug and said, ‘I love you, man. Now seriously, are you gay or not?’” Gooding Jr. shared on the Graham Norton Show years ago. “I almost fainted. And thought, please, Lord, let me disappear. Tom just laughed and said, ‘No.’”

The love Gooding Jr. had for his dad was clear. Earlier this year, the People v. O.J. Simpson star fondly spoke of his father during an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio.

“I remember, one of my earliest memories … he would perform at Disneyland, and after his performances, they would close it off to the general public and all the performers’ kids would go on the rides as many times as they’d want,” Cuba reminisced. “He would pull me up on stage with him and make me finish the song because I’d seen him perform all the time. … It was a lot of feeling like, ‘I come from royalty.’”

Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sr.
Cuba Gooding Sr. and Cuba Gooding Jr. in 1998. (Photo: Robert Millard/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock)

Gooding Sr. was just as big of a fan of his son’s. During an interview with Entertainment Tonight in 2002, the singer said he would tell Cuba he’s a great actor after every performance because he just wants his son happy. “I lie to him and tell him it was great, no matter what he does,” he smiled.

The Oscar winner, 49, paid tribute to his father on Instagram Friday afternoon. He simply captioned a photo of The Main Ingredients Greatest Hits album, “Eternal.”

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Cuba Gooding Sr. was pronounced dead at the scene yesterday. His cause of death is ongoing, pending an autopsy. He would have turned 73 next week.


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