Aretha Franklin's biographer explains why no one knew about her illness: "She didn’t want to be seen as a tragic blues figure"
Aretha Franklin's biographer, David Ritz, explains the music icon's need for 'extreme privacy' and how she fought her negative situations with optimism
While we wait on the health updates of Aretha Franklin, several reports have emerged that the legendary Queen of Soul was battling cancer and was "gravely ill." The news surprised many and the superstar’s penchant for extreme privacy had never been more apparent. While the music icon's team has shared that family members and friends — including Stevie Wonder and the Reverend Jesse Jackson — have been at Franklin’s Detroit bedside, little is known about the star’s specific illness. Some reports have claimed that she’s near the end of a long battle with cancer, but Franklin herself has refused to address it.
"It’s the type of extreme privacy she’s always worked hard to protect," says biographer David Ritz to People. Ritz worked two years with Franklin on her 1999 memoir 'From These Roots' prior to penning his own biography of her life, 2015’s 'Respect'. The latter set off a public rift between the two, with Ritz claiming his take was the unflinching true story of Franklin’s world-renowned career and tumultuous personal life, and Franklin declaring his account, especially of her long battle with alcohol addiction, among other things was "full of lies.”
In the wake of her most recent health scare, Ritz tells the publication that the 76-year-old icon's need for privacy has always been very crucial and important.
“She had a tough childhood,” says Ritz who penned the story of Franklin’s mother leaving the family when she was very young. “And early on in her career she was hit by the tabloids.” Then with first husband and one-time manager Ted White, “there were stories of her being a victim of domestic violence and she didn’t like that. She didn’t like the image of her being a beaten woman. She loved the blues but she didn’t want to be seen as a tragic blues figure.”
Ritz further adds that “She put out a picture of her having a happy home and happy children and everything was rosy and any stories to the contrary really got her mad.” Franklin and White divorced in 1969 before she married actor Glynn Turman, whom she divorced in 1984.
While Franklin rose to fame, she fiercely guarded her personal life. The mother of four welcomed her first two sons when she was a teen, and famously never revealed or confirmed the identity of their fathers. In the same manner, the star never chose to reveal details of her illnesses, telling People back in 2016, “I’m doing very well. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be around like Perry Como, somewhere on a couch laying down with a microphone, still singing.”
News of the music icon's degrading health first broke in early Monday morning citing that her death was "imminent. "Ritz concluded the interview on a positive note saying optimism is just how Franklin has coped through it all. “She’s not atypical in her privacy, she’s just extreme. I think her strategy for emotional survival was idealization of her life in general. When you tend to idealize things, you don’t have to deal with a lot of the tough realities.”
"She’s tough,” he concludes.