The Temptations is one of my all-time favorite singing groups. I’m especially a fan of the “Classic Five” lineup (I like to call it their “Death Lineup”—no pun intended) of David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams. Dennis Edwards replacing David Ruffin and singing on their most iconic songs in the 1970s also works for me. That group of six Temps was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for good reason.
Because The Temptations is up there on my list of faves, The Temptations miniseries/movie is also on my list of favorite movies and probably tops my biopics list. It was so well done. Obviously, it’s told from the vantage point of Otis Williams, the leader and founder of the group, and its longest-running member—who is also a producer on the miniseries. Oddly, I could have sworn that he said on the Questlove Supreme podcast that he has yet to actually see the miniseries, even though he, again, produced it, and that it was largely based on his autobiography, Temptations. Even more oddly, since he produced a play called Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, the miniseries and play were sourced from the same material.
Anywho. One of the most iconic moments of the miniseries comes during a 1968 Temptations show after David Ruffin had been fired and Dennis Edwards was debuting with the group. Ruffin runs up on the stage, takes the microphone from Edwards and sings “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” then runs off stage. The whole group goes to the back and a scuffle ensues. Now, in the miniseries, Ruffin has to be held back as he and Williams get into an argument where Williams states that folks are there to see The Temps and Ruffin utters the famous words, “Ain’t nobody comin’ to see you, Otis!” Look, I don’t know if that statement is real or created for television. All I can do is pray that it’s real. Two times a week, after praying for the safety and well-being of my family (and yours) and light suggestions about filling in plot holes in my favorite television shows, I pray to God that Williams really did say that line. God understands me; don’t judge me.
Now I have a theory here as to why I believe it’s real. Who the fuck puts in a line that totally sons them in a movie they are creating and inspiring? Like, if it’s my movie, none of you whoever got over on me will ever get the best of me. I’m rewriting all of the history, fam. You remember how in Mr. Cheeks “Lights, Camera, Action!” video when Cheeks enters the strip club, the dude hits the button alerting the women that Cheeks is there? That’s my whole autobiography, bro. Not for nothing, the sample for Mr. Cheeks song is Eddie Kendricks’ “Keep on Truckin’.” Look at gawd.
So again, the fact that Williams was instrumental in the miniseries and it’s in there makes me believe it’s real. Maybe a pettier theory is in play: Maybe Williams knew he was about to outlive everybody, thereby ensuring that everybody who wanted to see The Temptations was literally coming to see him.
The miniseries was released in 1998. At that point, everybody in the Classic Five lineup of Paul Williams (1973), David Ruffin (1991), Eddie Kendricks (1992) and Melvin Franklin (1995) had passed. By then, he really only had to outlive Dennis Edwards. Considering at the time the miniseries dropped, Otis was only about 56 or 57 years old, and Dennis was about 54, it was no small feat. In February of 2018, Dennis Edwards passed away (under questionable circumstances), leaving Otis and a new band of merry-men leading the charge of The Temptations. Otis owns the Temptations name, which means at this point, if you want to see The Temptations, you are LITERALLY coming to see Otis. The Temptations are currently touring.
Now, in no way would I suggest Otis would hope that he outlived everybody. I’m sure the passing of each of his oldest friends and group mates hit him significantly. But in 1998, he put that line in the movie and there were only two of the real-deal Temps left. And since Dennis wasn’t touring with The Temptations anymore, he could MOSTLY say folks were coming to see him. BUT, Dennis was still alive and if he showed up on stage, Otis couldn’t be sure. Now, though? Well, let’s just say it worked out pretty well for Otis.
I think Otis outlived everybody in a fit of petty so that he could say, “Folks are coming to see Otis.”
I have no proof of this and I’m sure he’d never cop to this, but folks have outlived others for lesser reasons. Is pettiness enough to keep a person going? We may never know. What we do know is that if you go to see The Temptations, it’s not because of the other dozens of folks who have created music as The Temptations. At this juncture, The Temptations are Otis Williams and Otis Williams is The Temptations.
Well played, Otis. Well played.