The late Aretha Franklin, who passed away on August 15, had a longtime partner who was by her side until the end of her life, but not much was known about her longtime love Willie Wilkerson.
Heavy reported that the two were friends for years before their friendship turned into love.
The couple started dating in the late 1980s. Heavy noted that the singer once spoke about her relationship with Wilkerson, a firefighter from Detroit, quipping that as a couple they were a “fiery match.”
Wilkerson met Franklin after he attended an autograph signing she held in the 1980s when 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 and he even made an appearance in the video for her song “Jimmy Lee.”
In January of 2012, People Magazine reported that the couple was engaged. Franklin’s representative confirmed the news, stating that the legendary soul singer would be marrying her “forever friend.”
“We’re looking at June or July for our date and no, I’m not pregnant, LOL,” Franklin joked at the time to People Magazine.
Weeks after announcing their engagement, the couple called it off but remained romantically involved, according to InStyle.
“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,” Franklin said in 2012. “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.”
The two were also engaged once before in 1987. Franklin loved Wilkerson because, as she stated in the aforementioned interview published by People, “I’m glad that he could make the distinction between the lady and the artist because a lot of men can’t.”
The singer, who has been battling health issues for almost a decade, relied on Wilkerson to get her through the toughest of times.
“[He] was there almost 24/7 taking care of Aretha,” a source close to the couple told the New York Daily News.
Franklin had been married two times prior to her relationship with Wilkerson.
She was previously wed to her then-manager Ted White for eight years from 1961-1969. She then married actor Glynn Turman in 1978, but the two split six years later.
The late singer is survived by four children: Ted White Jr., Kecalf Cunningham, Clarence Franklin, and Edward Franklin.