Luther Vandross’ 2005 death sparked national mourning, but no one could have been more devastated than his aged mother, Mary Ida Vandross, who had just lost the last of her four children. She opened up about Luther’s last days and the excruciating pain that followed.
After suffering a massive stroke in 2003, the “Dance With My Father” singer never fully recovered until his death two years later. According to Mary in an interview with PEOPLE Magazine, she had a premonition about the tragedy.
Luther Vandross at the 'Tonight Show with Jay Leno' at the NBC Studios in California on Jun. 20, 2001. |Photo: Getty Images
“The winter before he had the stroke, I noticed that he was putting things in order. Too much in order,” she told the outlet, recalling how Luther convinced her to move closer to family in Philadelphia.
It wasn’t long after Mary moved that her son was found collapsed in his home. In addition to previous struggles with diabetes, weight fluctuations, and hypertension, doctors found that one of the blood vessels at the base of Luther’s brain had burst.
Mary Ida Vandross at a press conference to talk about the Luther Vandross Tribute CD and diabetes awareness on Aug 4, 2004 in New York City. |Photo: Getty Images
After spending two months drifting in and out of consciousness, Luther was moved to a rehabilitation facility in New Jersey. There, the ballad legend’s health reportedly improved for a while before things started to look glum again.
According to Mary, she had yet another premonition the Sunday before her son eventually passed away. “That was the saddest moment of my life,” she recalled. “Here I am with one child left out of four, and to see him drifting away. …I told the nurse, ‘Please get him up. I want him to have dinner with me.’”
Luther Vandross performs on stage at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1977. |Photo: Getty Images
Mary said she ate with Luther – who she affectionately called Ronni – and they even had a normal conversation, but he refused to assure her that he’d get well.
“He had watermelon and cornbread—his favorite food—and he was talking just like you and I right now. And I said, ‘How do you feel?’ And he says, ‘Okay.’ I said, ‘Ronni? Do you know I love you so much?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Please do me a favor and get well.’ And he never answered me.”
Mary even mentioned sharing jokes with Luther that same day, but as she left him, she “had a feeling that was the end.” “That Thursday, my sister and I were in the kitchen, and I said, ‘Helen, I hear death bells. I’m losing my son.’”
Luther died on Friday, July 1, 2005, the same day his mother “just couldn’t stop crying” and “cried [herself] to sleep.” The singer died at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in New Jersey.
No parent should ever have to witness the demise of their kids and Mary’s reaction to the death of her only surviving child was beyond heartbreaking:
“I screamed. I said, ‘Oh, Lord. My last child. Help me to understand.’ I remember that very well. All I need to do is understand. God knows how empty my life has been since all of my children are gone.”
Luther Vandross is honored posthumously with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on June 3, 2014 in Hollywood, California. |Photo: Getty Images
Mary’s pain must have been made more unbearable by the fact that her husband and three older kids all died from diabetes complications.
“I’m not a doctor or a nurse. But I beg people, please, have yourself tested [for diabetes],” Mary urged in the 2006 interview. She would pass on two years later.
14 years after his death, Luther’s legacy lives on in timeless soul-stirring hits like “Never Too Much,” "The Closer I Get to You," "Here and Now," "For You to Love," "I Can Make It Better," “Your Secret Love,” and many more.
The eight-time Grammy winner, whose silky tenor is yet unmatched, was honored posthumously with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014.
Keep resting, Luther!
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