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Aretha Franklin's Former Fiance Willie Wilkerson Died from Coronavirus at 72

Claudine Varela
Apr 10, 2020
02:34 A.M.
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Aretha Franklin's two-week fiancé and lifelong friend, Willie Wilkerson died at a hospital after weeks of battling the Coronavirus. Wilkerson was a constant in Franklin's life and kept close contact with her until her death.

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Aretha Franklin’s former fiancé and lifelong friend, Willie Wilkerson has died due to the Coronavirus.

A report from the Detroit Free Press revealed that the 72 -year-old retired firefighter passed away at the Ascension Providence Hospital in Rochester after being admitted on March 30 due to the virus.

Aretha Franklin and Willie Wilkerson at the opening of the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Atrium in New York in December 2015. | Photo: Getty Images

Aretha Franklin and Willie Wilkerson at the opening of the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Atrium in New York in December 2015. | Photo: Getty Images

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A DAUGHTER'S HERO

Wilkerson’s daughter, Tanya Wilkerson-Thompson paid tribute to the “full life” her father lived in a Facebook post marking his demise. “He was my hero, my father, and my friend. I will cherish every memory of him,” she had written.

Wilkerson’s daughter, Tequila Wilkerson revealed that her father kept close communication with Franklin even as she battled with pancreatic cancer.

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A CONSTANT IN FRANKLIN'S LIFE

Wilkerson is famous for being Franklin’s constant since meeting in the late 1980s at her concert. Wilkerson was sitting at the front row cheering her on when the legendary singer struck a conversation with him.

Having learned that they both had apartments in Detroit’s Riverfront Towers, Franklin and Wilkerson developed a relationship that would eventually lead to their 2012 engagement.

Aretha Franklin and Willie Wilkerson at Franklin's birthday dinner in March 2011. | Photo: Getty Images

Aretha Franklin and Willie Wilkerson at Franklin's birthday dinner in March 2011. | Photo: Getty Images

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BEYOND A TWO-WEEK ENGAGEMENT

At the time, Franklin joked that her engagement wasn’t a result of pregnancy. She was 70 then and Wilkerson, 64. However, two weeks later, they surprised the world when they called off their engagement saying things were moving too fast for them. They remained friends after until Franklin’s death in 2018.

Wilkerson’s daughter, Tequila Wilkerson revealed that her father kept close communication with Franklin even as she battled with pancreatic cancer. They would frequently talk on the phone. He also paid her a visit months before her death.

Aretha Franklin and Willie Wilkerson at the backstage of the Broadway musical, "Aladdin" in September 2014. | Photo: Getty Images

Aretha Franklin and Willie Wilkerson at the backstage of the Broadway musical, "Aladdin" in September 2014. | Photo: Getty Images

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THE "ELUSIVE" FIREFIGHTER

Apart from being Franklin’s romantic partner for years, Wilkerson also became her road manager when she went on cross-country tours via bus as she developed a fear of flying. According to the Free Press in 2012, Wilkerson had a “sturdy, steady presence at Franklin’s side.”

Wilkerson was a Vietnam war veteran who loved Cadillacs. He was also the “best fire engine operator” of the Detroit Fire Department, according to Captain David Webster, Wilkerson’s lifelong friend who headed the department’s Ladder Co. 27.

Aretha Franklin and Willie Wilkerson leaving the "Today" show in October 2014. | Photo: Getty Images

Aretha Franklin and Willie Wilkerson leaving the "Today" show in October 2014. | Photo: Getty Images

Webster shared that Wilkerson was “elusive” when it came to discussing his affiliation with Franklin even after he retired from firefighting in 1995. However, he would later be seen constantly with Franklin, escorting her to events including Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

Our prayers go out to Wilkerson’s family.

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