Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Jazz at Lincoln CenterThe late Aretha Franklin‘s former partner Willie Wilkerson died Wednesday of COVID-19 virus at age 72, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Wilkerson, a retired Detroit firefighter, met the Queen of Soul in the 1980s when he had a front row seat at one of her concerts.
The couple had an on-again, off-again relationship for decades, and were engaged to be married multiple times, most recently in 2012.
After their 2012 nuptials were called off, Wilkerson remained close friends with Franklin.
Wilkerson’s daughter Tequila told the Free Press that her father was “still very close to [Aretha at the time of her death in 2018,] visiting her right to the end.”
Over the years, Wilkerson escorted Aretha to many major events, including the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, where Franklin memorably sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
He also appeared in the music video for the Queen of Soul’s 1986 song “Jimmy Lee.”
Wilkerson is survived by his wife, Doris Ogburn, whom he married in 2019, as well as by four children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
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