Like so many, the Four Tops’ Abdul “Duke” Fakir is “truly heartbroken” about the unexpected death of the Supremes’ Mary Wilson at age 76 on Monday, Feb. 8.
And he has more reason to be than most.
Fakir, who’s the sole surviving member of the Four Tops’ original lineup, lived with and was engaged to Wilson for a time during the ’60s, while both of their groups were churning out hits for Motown. “In 1963, we had just signed to Motown and were being introduced to a lot of the artists,” Fakir — who was alerted about Wilson’s passing by a late-night text from a friend on the West Coast — told Billboard on Tuesday (Feb. 9). “They were beautiful, sweet kids. We took a liking to them right away, and right away Mary and I became instant friends — and, of course, it grew into something a little more than that.”
The engagement, however, “didn’t work out. We were more engaged to our careers than anything else, so we just decided to be friends, and that’s what happened. We’ve been lifelong friends, dear friends. She was probably one of the sweetest people I ever met — so full of life, so joyful.”
Fakir, in fact, spoke on the phone with Wilson just a few days before her death. “She was in good spirits, said she was feeling great. She was working on some kind of new project, which was normal for her. She was always trying to do something different and new.”
Fakir said he and Wilson would counsel each other about deals and career moves — including when Diana Ross left the Supremes during 1970. “I said, ‘Just remember that, no matter what, you are (still) the Supremes’,” Fakir remembered. “‘You keep that and use that. It’s a great name.’ And she always did. She always upheld the name of the Supremes. It wasn’t like she was trying to get away from that. She’d do whatever she could to enhance that name. She was a real trouper.”
Wilson — who documented her time with the Supremes, as well as her solo career, in three books — also played on the same bills with the Four Tops, and Fakir was impressed with her growth as a performer.
“She became quite a good singer, quite an entertainer,” he said. “She would knock ’em out. She could sing those hits — she didn’t sound like Diana (Ross), but she sang the hell out of them. She loved her audience.
“She was such a sweetheart and had so much energy. So this (death) was the last thing I expected. I’m really in a state of shock.”