Odell Brown Jr., a lifelong musician who co-wrote one of Marvin Gaye's biggest hits only to soon find himself destitute, has died.

Brown, 70, died May 3 in his Richfield home after moving to the Twin Cities in the mid-1990s and stabilizing his professional and personal life.

A reception to celebrate Brown's life is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Portland Avenue United Methodist Church, 8000 Portland Av. S., followed immediately by a memorial service.

Brown began playing piano in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., tapping out classical songs at age 4. He broke through musically while living in Chicago, where his jazz group Odell Brown & the Organizers received Billboard's "Best New Group" award in 1966.

As Brown recounted in a Star Tribune interview in 2003, he was playing a new electric keyboard in 1982 and hit the notes that caught Gaye's ears.

Soon, Gaye was humming the tune. Words were uttered, and the 1982 Grammy-winning song "Sexual Healing" came to life.

"It took two minutes to write," Brown said.

But as the song soared, Brown fell -- hard.

In 1983, while living in a Skid Row hotel in Los Angeles, he sat in a bar and watched the Grammy Awards. He was nominated four times and won for best R&B instrumental for "Sexual Healing."

He told a stranger next to him that he'd won a Grammy. The stranger responded: "Yeah, right."

A promising career that included signing on with the famed Chess label and working with artists such as Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Minnie Riperton, fell victim to depression, brought on in part by the death of family members and friends.

While his musical career never regained the momentum it had as Gaye's music director, it found stability after he moved to Richfield and married musician Barbara Whiteman, "his lifelong soulmate."

Among his later-in-life releases was the self-produced CD "Christmas Greetings from Odell Brown," distributed by his Edge Records. He chose that name "because I've been over the edge and back," he told the Star Tribune.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482