WWE issued the following:
WWE is saddened to learn that legendary singer and songwriter Aretha Franklin has passed away. The multi-time Grammy Award winner performed a rousing rendition of “America the Beautiful” at WrestleMania III and again at WrestleMania 23. WWE extends its condolences to her family, friends and fans.
The world has lost a member of music royalty.
Aretha Franklin, the 18-time Grammy-winning “Queen of Soul,” has died. The late legend passed away at home in Detroit on Thursday morning “surrounded by family and loved ones,” the star’s publicist confirmed in a statement to E! News. She was 76 years old.
“In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds,” the statement read.
Reports emerged of her failing health earlier this week as family members and sources close to Franklin revealed to the press that she was very ill. As Franklin’s publicist ultimately confirmed on Thursday, the star died from advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type per her oncologist.
While loved ones mourn the icon, colleagues and fans from all over the world are heartbroken over her untimely passing. “We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world,” the statement concluded. “Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”
The statement further noted that funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.
Long before she was moving audiences worldwide with her signature four-octave pipes, Memphis-born Franklin was serenading people in the pews as a soloist in a Baptist church in Detroit where her father, Reverend Clarence C.L. Franklin, served as pastor after permanently relocating the family. Following her parents’ separation and her mother’s death, Franklin’s well-known father later toured the country giving sermons and the musical hopeful went along for the ride.
Citing her father as a coach and gospel singer Clara Ward as her mentor, Franklin pursued what was at the core of her passions. “I love to sing—it’s just a natural thing for me,” she once said in an interview on PBS NewsHour. “Just my natural love for music is what drove me.”
With Clarence as her manager, the budding star and ear-trained pianist landed her first record deal and released her debut studio album, Songs of Faith, at 14 years old. 41 studio albums, six live albums and dozens more compilation albums followed in the course of her historic career spanning seven decades and multiple genres.
A decade after Faith, the performer garnered her first number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with Otis Redding’s “Respect” in 1967 and shot to international stardom. The hit became synonymous with the then-25-year-old powerhouse, was reborn as a civil rights and feminist anthem and garnered her her first Grammy nomination and win the next year. With the albums that followed, Franklin shaped music history with iconic hits like “Chain of Fools,” “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Think.”
Her success was not lost on the industry as her list of record-setting accolades seemed limitless. She was honored by the Recording Academy with a Grammy Legend Award in 1991 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. Franklin was nominated and won her first and only Golden Globe Award for “Best Original Song” in 2007 for “Never Gonna Break My Faith” and dabbled in film with roles in movies like The Blues Brothers and its 1998 sequel.
In 1987, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was the youngest recipient at the time when she received the Kennedy Center Honors at the age of 52 in 1994.
“Her greatest achievement, perhaps, has been the ability to break down boundaries, to appeal to this country’s vast range of musical tastes,” the Kennedy Center said at the time.
In addition to performing at the inaugurations of three United States presidents—most recently for former President Barack Obamain 2009—she was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President George W. Bushin 2005.
“Aretha Franklin was an incomparable artist who came to be recognized as one of the most profound voices in music,” the Recording Academy said in part of a statement on Thursday. “Her distinctive sound, unforgettable recordings, and giving spirit will continue to be celebrated worldwide. Aretha will be dearly missed, and our thoughts go out to her loved ones during this difficult time.”
Behind the scenes, the star first became a mother at 12 years old when she gave birth to son Clarence Franklin in 1955. Three more sons—Edward Franklin, Ted White, Jr. and Kecalf Cunningham—followed. The songstress was married twice, first to Theodore “Ted” White in 1961, but the marriage was reportedly abusive and they divorced by 1969. Her subsequent marriage to actor Glynn Turman ended in divorce in 1984. She was later engaged to Willie Wilkerson, but they never wed.
“I love marriage—love the institution,” she told Wendy Williamsin a 2011 interview, confirming that she still spoke to Turman.
Personally, the star struggled with her weight throughout most of her life and had been a longtime smoker. “It’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, lose the weight and the cigarettes,” she told Jet in 2007. “Nothing has been harder for me than that.”
In 2010, she underwent surgery for an undisclosed reason after feeling pain in her side, which was rumored to be connected to pancreatic cancer—a claim she rebuffed. “I’ve left that behind. I’m feeling wonderful, I’m feeling great and I couldn’t be feeling any better than I’m feeling right now,” she assured Williams without getting into specifics.
Still, Franklin canceled some performances in the following years citing unspecified medical treatment or “doctor’s orders.” By February 2017, Franklin announced her plans to retire from performing in concert that year and was last photographed on stage at the Elton John AIDS Foundation Fall Gala that November.
“I feel very, very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from, and where it is now,” the once-described “giant of soul music” told Detroit TV station Local 4 last year.
The star is survived by her four sons, grandchildren and extended family. Further, she has impacted generations of performers that follow in her footsteps, including Alicia Keysand Jennifer Hudson.
However, in Franklin’s eyes, there would always only be one of her.
“Who’s next?” Williams asked her years ago.
As the songstress responded simply, “Aretha.”