Willie Wilkerson Jr., a longtime friend and one-time fiance of music legend Aretha Franklin, died yesterday from the coronavirus, according to relatives. He was 72 years old. He passed away at the Ascension Providence Hospital in Rochester, Michigan. He'd been admitted on March 30.
"This morning I lost my father, Willie Wilkerson JR to the COVID 19 virus," his daughter, Tanya Wilkerson-Thompson shared on Facebook. "I know most of you were praying for him and our family and I want you to know how much we appreciate you. If you knew him at all or ever met him even once, you know how full of life he was. He was my hero, my father and my friend. I will cherish every memory of him. God has called him home and he has answered the call. I will miss my father dearly. One day at a time. Rest In Peace daddy. Love you."
Wilkerson, who was a Detroit firefighter at the time, met Franklin at a Detroit-area concert in the '80s. The two immediately hit it off. In the mid-1990s, the pair got engaged, but eventually called it off a few months later.
"She's a homebody," he said at the time in a great 1994 profile on the Queen of Soul in Vanity Fair. "She really is as far as I can see. She likes being around the house and likes having a man around the house. The type of person I am, I can't sit around the house. If I could be that type of guy, I would have been there. I'm too hyper."
Still, the two would remain close for the rest of Franklin's life. He would work for her in various capacities as well, including serving as the singer's head of security and road manager.
"He was a hell of a guy. He always gave back to the city," longtime friend and fellow retired Detroit firefighter Reginald Amos told The Detroit News. "He served the citizens of the city of Detroit admirably, and he never turned his back on the city or its citizens."