Supreme Mary Wilson Dead at 76: Watch Her Final Message to Fans
Mary Wilson, the Motown legend who was an original and enduring member of the Supremes, died at her Las Vegas home Monday. She was 76.
"Extra" has confirmed that Wilson died of hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, according to the Clark County Coroner, meaning high blood pressure brought on by artery blockages.
Her death was described as "sudden," and KISS member Paul Stanley revealed on Twitter, "I was just on a Zoom call with her Wednesday for about an hour & never could have imagined this. So full of life & great stories. Absolutely shocked. Rest In Supreme Peace Mary."
Diana Ross, the iconic lead singer of the first incarnation of the Supremes, tweeted, "I just woke up to this news , my condolences to you Mary's family ,I am reminded that each day is a gift ,I have so many wonderful memories of our time together 'The Supremes ' will live on ,in our hearts."
"Mary Wilson was extremely special to me," Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement. "She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed."
Wilson remained active until the end of her life, including a 2019 stint on "Dancing with the Stars," the publication that year of her book "Supreme Glamour," and her presence in January of this year as the 60th anniversary of the Supremes' first record deal was observed.
Just two days before her death, Wilson released an ebullient video on her official YouTube celebrating Black History Month and the many good things that happened in her life and career in the month of February. In the video, Wilson looks and sounds as ageless and optimistic as ever, and looks ahead to various projects.
"I just wanna thank you guys for chiming in and seeing some of the things we did back in the day," she says, becoming emotional remembering the death of fellow Supreme Florence Ballard, who died February 22, 1976.
Wilson was born March 6, 1944, in Greenville, Mississippi, growing up in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects in Detroit. Befriending neighbor Florence Ballard, the girls became — along with Diana Ross — members of the group the Primettes, who were signed to Motown as teens in January 1961.
Rechristened the Supremes, Diana, Mary and Florence had a remarkable string of hits, beginning with 1963's "When the Lovelight Stars Shining Through His Eyes," a legacy that defined the Motown Sound and made music history. In all, they hit #1 a dozen times.
Wilson was the only member of the group to stay from day one through the end, when it was officially disbanded in 1977, seven years after Ross had decamped on her path to solo superstardom.
"I was very privileged to have sung with two really wonderful people, Diana and Flo," she said, in spite of longtime tensions with Ross, "and that Florence could not live to be here, to know that what we as three little girls — three insecure little girls — could possibly come true, is, it saddens me to know that. But that's life, and there's nothing we can do about it, and I'm very proud that everyone has given us this honor so that her daughters could be here to see how much we loved her."
Post-Supremes, Wilson remained a tireless performer in musical theater, clubs, and on concert stages around the world. Her tell-all memoir "Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme" was a major best seller in 1986, as was its follow-up, "Supreme Faith: Someday We'll Be Together" (1990).
She also devoted time to lobbying for laws to keep music acts from using established names if no original members exist in the new variations, and settled out of court with Motown over management of the Supremes.
A much-ballyhooed Return to Love tour reuniting Ross with some of the later members of the Supremes proceeded without Wilson in 2000, but ended abruptly due to poor ticket sales.
Wilson released two solo albums, a compilation, a live album, two live DVDs, and numerous solo singles, including the dance hits "Red Hot" (1979) and "Time to Move On" (2015). She also became noted as the creator of the Mary Wilson/Supremes Gown Collection.
Wilson's 1974 marriage to Pedro Ferrer ended in divorce in 1981.
Preceded in death by her son Rafael, Wilson is survived by her daughter Turkessa, her son Pedro Jr., her adopted son Willie, 10 grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.