Aretha Franklin has died, according to the Associated Press. She was 76 years old.
On August 12, the Daily Mail reported that Aretha Franklin was “gravely ill,” and that she was surrounded by her loved ones in Detroit.
“They have asked for prayers and privacy for the the singing legend, who has battled health problems for the past number of years,” the outlet reported.
Aretha Franklin had been in a relationship with William “Willie” Wilkerson for several years. The two were friends for several years before turning their friendship into a romance.
Franklin and Wilkerson started dating many moons ago. In the late 80s, Franklin opened up about her romance with Wilkerson, a firefighter from Detroit, saying that they were “a fiery match” and that they were “very compatible.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Was Engaged to Be Married to Franklin in 2012 & The 2 Had Been Planning a Wedding in Miami
On January 2, 2012, People Magazine reported that Wilkerson and Franklin were engaged. A rep for Franklin confirmed the news to the outlet, saying that Franklin was set to marry her “forever friend.” Franklin said “yes” to Wilkerson’s proposal, which came over the holidays.
“We’re looking at June or July for our date and no, I’m not pregnant, LOL,” Franklin told the outlet herself.
She and Wilkerson had already been thinking about their wedding day by the time they got engaged. In fact, Franklin’s rep told People Magazine that the Queen of Soul already had a few dress designers on her mind. She had narrowed it down to Donna Karan, Valentino, and Vera Wang.
According to Essence, the pair had been hoping to exchange vows in Miami Beach. After the ceremony, they wanted to party the night away with family and friends “aboard a private yacht.”
2. He & Franklin Called Off Their Engagement a Few Weeks Later
Wilkerson and Franklin never made it down the aisle because they called off their engagement just two weeks after announcing it. Franklin released a statement about the decision to call off the wedding, saying that they both felt that things were moving “a little too fast.”
“Will and I have decided we were moving a little too fast, and there were a number of things that had not been thought through thoroughly. There will be no wedding at this time. We will not comment on it any further because of the very personal and sensitive nature of it. We appreciate all of the many well wishes from friends,” Franklin said in a statement at the time.
Several rumors about the status of the couple’s relationship circulated at the time, but the two maintained their close relationship, despite not moving forward with their wedding plans.
According to the New York Daily News, this wasn’t the first time that this had happened. The two were also engaged in 1987, but didn’t follow through with wedding plans at that time either.
3. He’s a Retired Firefighter From Detroit & He Starred in 1 of Franklin’s Music Videos
Wilkerson is a Detroit native. According to the Telegraph, Wilkerson worked as a firefighter back in the day. He went to an autograph signing in the 1980s when he met Franklin. He asked the legendary singer to sign the cast on his broken leg.
The two ended up having a conversation and exchanging information. Their relationship grew from there.
Wilkerson is also described as a businessman. One of the things that Franklin always liked about him is that he was able to differentiate between Franklin the person and Franklin the performer. He has always been very supportive of Franklin — and even lent his own talents for his lady, appearing in her music video for the song “Jimmy Lee.”
4. He’s Been Her Rock & Has Been By Her Side Through Her Various Health Issues
Over the years, Franklin has battled various health issues. Back in 2010, Franklin became very sick. At the time, it was rumored that Franklin had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but she denied those claims.
“There was just so many wild things out there and just so many things being said that weren’t true… I just felt I needed to address it a little. I don’t know where pancreatic cancer came from, she states. ‘I was sitting there reading the newspaper and it was saying someone in my family said that. No one in my family ever said that to anybody,” she said.
When Franklin stepped back into the spotlight, she had lost a significant amount of weight. This caused many people to wonder if she underwent gastric bypass surgery — another claim that she denied.
“Definitely not – and [I] would not. I heard that rumor. I said, ‘That is crazy.’ It definitely was not the bariatric or, what is it, gastric… Yeah, I can’t even tell you the correct name of it. It’s really not necessary to talk about one’s personal medical health,” Franklin explained at the time.
Regardless of what she had been sick with, it was Wilkerson who was by her side, caring for her day in and day out.
“[He] was there almost 24/7 taking care of Aretha,” a source told the New York Daily News.
5. Franklin Had Been Married 2 Times Previously
Franklin was previously married to her then-manager Ted White for eight years (1961 – 1969). She married actor Glynn Turman in 1978, but the two split six years later.
Franklin is a mother of four children, Ted White Jr., Kecalf Cunningham, Clarence Franklin, and Edward Franklin.