How did Aretha Franklin die? Tragic story of ‘Queen of Soul’ and the mix of trauma and triumph in her life
Aretha Franklin had life of privilege and pain in equal measure, with a complicated relationship with her father
Aretha Franklin certainly lived a fuller, larger life than most. The 'Queen of Soul' is widely considered to be the greatest singer in the past fifty years with more than 75 million records sold.
Aretha Franklin has certainly left behind a rich legacy, but the same cannot be said of her finances. Franklin died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76 in August 2018, and reportedly owed the IRS $8 million in back taxes and penalties. She also had no will or trust when she died. But irrespective of a messy end, there's no denying the genius that was Aretha. This is appropriately the title of National Geographic's eight-part anthology series 'Genius: Aretha', which charts Franklin's journey from child prodigy to best-selling artist and civil rights champion.
Franklin's genius was actively encouraged by her father, Reverend Clarence LaVaughn Franklin. In fact, many credit CL Franklin for shaping Aretha's style and sound. Aretha's father was also a superstar in his own right. CL Franklin's sermons were so popular that they were sold in record stores around the country. At the height of his career, CL Franklin charged $4,000 per appearance. This led to him being able to afford a flamboyant lifestyle in the clothes he wore and the cars he drove.
This flamboyance clearly rubbed off on his daughter as well, who was known to love sporting elaborate hats, regal gowns and fierce red lipstick. It was CL Franklin who ensured that Aretha's talent was honed with piano lessons and made the decision that his daughter will move from singing gospel to singing R&B. He believed that music was her destiny and even Aretha's first pregnancy, reportedly at 12 years of age, didn't deter him.
But while Aretha may have had a privileged childhood, there was deep trauma as well. Her father had a drinking problem and had many extra marital affairs, which led to some deep-seated resentment from Aretha. Many say his lowest point was when he reportedly impregnated an underage parishioner. In fact some even say that Aretha blamed her father for her mother's death. Aretha's mother passed away just short of Aretha's tenth birthday. But in spite of their troubled relationship, those close to the Franklins say she was always proud to be CL Franklin's daughter.
What also held Aretha in good stead besides of course her astounding talent, was that she was surrounded by figures of African-American excellence throughout her childhood. BB King, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughn were all friends of the family. To find out more about how the genius that was Aretha was formed you catch 'Genius: Aretha' on March 21 on National Geographic. All episodes will be available for streaming on Hulu the day after their Nat Geo debuts. Catch the trailer of 'Genius: Aretha' below.