THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT Gaye regained his physical health in Ostend. Footage from Marvin Gaye: Transit Ostend, the movie chronicling his time there, shows Gaye - fit, confident, and handsome - sparring in the gym and playing basketball with a friend. There are also rare musical gems, including footage of Gaye fooling around on a Steinway and singing some of his hits in the most relaxed possible way, and an a cappella rendition of The Lord's Prayer, performed in an Ostend church, that is startling in its intensity and depth.

One of Gaye's jogging partners was Dirk van der Horst, a local soul music fan who had, by coincidence, named his first son Marvin as a tribute to Gaye, his favorite singer. When Gaye came to Ostend, a friend took him to van der Horst's apartment unannounced to meet little Marvin, who was only one year old at the time.

"He was completely normal," van der Horst says. "It was not the real big soul singer who was at my place; it was Marvin. He would come by about once a week. It was really nice, and he enjoyed it. We jogged together on the beach. He was about 10 years older than me, and he was faster than me. He liked the people in Ostend, he liked the simplicity, and he liked not being recognized. He said he could be himself here."

Gaye's physical recovery allowed him to contemplate a return to the recording studio. The catalyst for his creative revival turned out to be the arrival in Ostend of David Ritz, an American biographer and soul-music expert who was collaborating with Gaye on a book about the singer's life. At first, Cousaert - anxious to protect his turf - was reluctant to take Ritz to Gaye's apartment, but he eventually relented, and Ritz and Gaye spent several weeks together in the relative calm provided by Ostend.

"Cousaert wasn't sure he wanted me to hang out with Marvin," Ritz says. "He was very suspicious and very protective and very proprietary. But when I started talking to Marvin, I got the idea Cousaert had been really good for him. The vibe I got from Marvin was, 'How can I get back? I am coming back.' That was quiet determination. He loved Ostend. The air was clean. It was pretty much long walks, jogs, bike rides - sort of a restoration, restoring his spirit."

At one point in their marathon talks, which provided much of the material for Ritz's biography of Gaye, Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, Ritz told Gaye that the singer needed "sexual healing." The phrase caught Gaye's imagination.

"What he responded to was the notion of healing," Ritz says. "He asked me what I meant, and I said, 'You need a woman who loves you as you.' I told him we all need healing. We all need the introduction of love. In the creation of the song, which took only minutes, he asked me to write a poem, and he wrote the music. It all fell together effortlessly. I think the song went with the desire of his heart that he be restored, not just to the charts of popular music, but also restored to a country that he had rejected, and that he felt had rejected him, and restored to the bosom of his nuclear family, from whom he had withdrawn."