Harlean Harris Wilson, widow of the legendary R&B singer Jackie Wilson and a decades-long top model, has died. She was 81.
The news of her death was confirmed by her late husband’s record label, Brunswick Records.
“Though we are deeply saddened that Harlean will not be with us physically to accept Jackie’s star on September 4, we are certain that she will be there with Jackie in spirit,” said Paul Tarnopol of Brunswick Records. “Harlean Wilson was a beautiful woman inside and out who lived her life with tremendous grace and dignity and was loved by us all.”
She is said to have died of natural causes.
Her passing comes just two weeks before she was set to represent her late husband at his Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony on September 14. Jackie Wilson died in 1984, leaving behind a legendary catalog of R&B classics. He was a second-year inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
“I’m so elated for him, so ecstatic about my husband getting this star,” Mrs. Wilson said when she found out the news. “That title ‘Mr. Excitement’ wasn’t just given to him; he worked for it.”
But Harlean was also well-known in her own right, having appeared on the covers of Ebony, Jet, and Hue in the 1950s and ’60s. A classic beauty, she was also rumored to have dated Sam Cooke, Ronald Isley, and Sammy Davis Jr. before she finally wed Jackie on May 1967.
Soon after the wedding, he released the signature hit “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” A year later, she appeared alongside the “Lonely Teardrops” and “To Be Loved” singer on the cover of his Brunswick Records album “I Get The Sweetest Feeling.
After his sudden heart attack in 1975, it was Harlean who was Wilson’s primary caretaker for the next nine years before his death in 1984.
She is survived by the couple’s son John Wilson, a grandson, Robert Wilson, and great-grandchildren Zanyah, Liana, Robert Jr. and Valentino, along with two sisters, Cheryl and Brenda.