In the Temptations classic “I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You),” the singer’s lover has just told him that she is leaving and he begs her to stay, pleading he could never love another. Many sources explain that the song, and in particular the line, “You’ve taken away my reason for livin’,” were based on a true story.
The story behind the song is that Rodger Penzabene, the songwriter of “I Could Never Love Another” and the similarly themed “I Wish It Would Rain” from the same album, lost his wife to another man. Penzabene and his wife had met as youths at Mumford High School. But sometimes love does not last forever. Reportedly he had taken his wife back after she had an affair, but she ended up leaving him after all. As the album with “I Could Never Love Another” climbed the charts, Penzabene killed himself on New Year’s Eve in 1967.
Nothing makes the story more convincing than the lead vocals on “I Could Never Love Another” by the great David Ruffin, who also died too soon from a tragic death. The way Ruffin sings the word “believe” in the first line immediately conveys the heartbreak and pain that permeates the entire song.
To the degree the backstory is true, though, we can never really know. Penzabene wrote the great song, and it seems he felt that heartbreak. But suicide is a complicated act. If everyone who is deeply heartbroken killed herself or himself, our species would have died out long ago. No doubt Penzabene’s feelings about his loss contributed to his final act, but I suspect there is more to the story.
Penzabene’s wife Helga Penzabene has tried to set the record straight by clarifying that Rodger did not kill himself over her. In 2012, she wrote in the comments to a post on Elvis Needs Boats that she was alive and well, living in Mount Clemens, Michigan. She has remarried twice, most recently divorced, and she still sings. She reported that she was working on a book about her life with Rodger. Hopefully it will help clear up the full story about him.
I suspect, though, that whatever is written in the book, many will still choose to believe the less complex heartbroken suicide version. We need tragic heroes, and the song is too good and the Temptations too awesome to believe that the songwriter did not kill himself after losing his reason for living.
Check out other posts in our series “The Story Behind the Song.” What is your favorite heartbreak song? Leave your two cents in the comments.
(Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)