Aretha Franklin has died aged 76 at her home in Detroit after battling pancreatic cancer.

Here, Tom Leonard tells the Queen of Soul's incredible story - from a broken home and a philandering priest father to global super-stardom:

Nobody wore a fur coat quite like Aretha Franklin. She loved to shrug it off dramatically mid-song - a Gospel music tradition supposed to indicate emotional abandon. In her case, the fur also helped remind her audience they were in the presence of royalty.

She was the "Queen of Soul" and nobody dare better forget it. On occasions when people appeared to forget royal etiquette, her regal behaviour could be quelling.

When Beyonce introduced Tina Turner as "the Queen" at the 2008 Grammy Awards, Franklin took it as an insult, angrily told reporters it had been a "cheap shot for controversy". (Given Turner was long ago crowned "Queen of Rockn'Roll", she had every right to the title).

Now Franklin's long reign is over. The superstar - who Rolling Stone magazine judged to be the greatest singer of all time - died aged 76 on Thursday at her home in Detroit.

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Her last public performance was at Elton John's Aids Foundation gala in New York in November last year. Photo / AP
Her last public performance was at Elton John's Aids Foundation gala in New York in November last year. Photo / AP

Franklin, who had been having hospice care, died from advanced pancreatic cancer - a disease she had been fighting since 2010. Although her health had been crippled by years of alcoholism, heavy smoking and obesity, she only announced last year that she was finally retiring from music.

In a statement, her family said: "In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart.

"We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins knew no bounds."

For decades, she remained an icon of black America. She sang Precious Lord at Martin Luther King Jr's funeral in 1968 and, more than 40 years later, performed at the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama. When she sang in front of the president again six years later, he was seen wiping away tears from his eyes before she'd even finished the first verse.

The winner of 18 Grammy awards and seller of tens of millions of albums, Franklin was widely hailed as the greatest singer in post-war popular music.

Although she was best-known for hits such as Respect and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, her range and versatility across musical forms was astonishing and went even beyond Gospel, pop, jazz and R&B.

When in 1998, Luciano Pavarotti couldn't perform at the Grammys because of a sore throat, she stepped in at 20 minutes' notice and sang Nessun Dorma in his place.

However, behind her seemingly effortless stage performances and the endless adulation that was showered on her, Franklin was a troubled soul.

Franklin won 18 Grammy awards and in 1987 she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Photo / AP
Franklin won 18 Grammy awards and in 1987 she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Photo / AP

The product of a broken home and a philandering preacher father who turned his ministry into an orgy party, she became pregnant for the first time when she was 12 and had had two children by different fathers by the time she was 15. She went on to battle alcoholism for much of her life.

Crippled by insecurity, she became an often impossible diva - feuding jealously with stars, and indulging in spectacular tantrums with her family and professional colleagues.

In denial about her personal problems and behaviour, Franklin did her utmost to hide it from her public. But it was all laid bare in an unauthorised 2014 biography whose author, David Ritz, was determined to reveal the 'real' story after penning an official version 15 years earlier that the singer had completely sanitised.

Franklin dismissed the book as 'Lies and more lies!' but none of the sources, including her closest friends and relatives, denied it.

Clarence Franklin, her father and the single most influential person in her life, was an enormously successful Baptist preacher. He said he was told when he was 15 to go out and preach God's Word by a voice coming from a burning plank. Dubbed the Preacher With The Golden Voice, he became famous across the US for recording his exuberant sermons which sold by the hundreds of thousands.

Aretha, one of five children, was born in Memphis but the family moved to Detroit when she was four. She became a child prodigy in the gospel choir of her father's church. By seven, she could replay a tune on the piano after hearing it just once.

Franklin performed at President Obama's inauguration in January 2009 when she sang My Country 'tis of Thee. Photo / AP
Franklin performed at President Obama's inauguration in January 2009 when she sang My Country 'tis of Thee. Photo / AP

Her father, a close friend of Martin Luther King, drove a Cadillac and wore sharp suits and alligator skin shoes. His fame only fuelled his promiscuous behaviour, culminating in his fathering a child with a 12-year-old girl.

His church became a front for orgies which insiders described as a "sex circus". As biographer Ritz put it: "High on wine and weed, the party people celebrated the love of the flesh."

When Aretha was six, her mother left their home due to her husband's philandering and moved to Buffalo, New York. She died when Franklin was nine and the children were largely brought up by a string of their father's secretaries and girlfriends.

Traumatised by her mother's death and perhaps influenced by her father's libidinous ministry, Franklin became highly-sexualised at an early age. The soul singer Sam Cooke strongly hinted they had an affair when she was just 12 and he was 23.

She gave birth to the first of her four sons just two months after her 13th birthday, calling him Clarence after her father. It speaks volumes for her father's tawdry reputation that rumours spread that he was the baby's father. In fact, it had been a friend of Aretha from school.

Determined to make it as a singer, she dropped out of school when she was 12 and - leaving her children to be raised by her paternal grandmother, "Big Mama" - joined her father's travelling "Gospel Caravan", singing and playing piano. She recalled how they often encountered racial segregation, only being able to eat at certain restaurants and only stopping at petrol stations where they knew they could use the lavatories.

Franklin's signature song, Respect, and stood as a cultural icon around the globe. Photo / AP
Franklin's signature song, Respect, and stood as a cultural icon around the globe. Photo / AP

She went to New York when she was 18 and signed with Atlantic Records. Musical success contrasted with private life disaster. She married her first husband, Ted White, in 1961 when she was 19. A brutal Detroit street criminal and pimp, he financed Franklin's early career with his prostitution profits. He also "didn't hesitate slapping [Franklin] around and didn't care who saw him do it," according to the singer's producer, Otis Taylor.

Franklin ate and drank compulsively. The alcohol helped numb the pain of her terrible marriage, said friends. Performing her 1967 hit Respect in a concert that year, a tipsy Franklin fell off the stage and broke her arm, later claiming she had been blinded by the stage lights. She was arrested for disorderly behaviour and cancelled concerts unexpectedly.

"She was drinking so much we thought she was on the verge of a breakdown," her sister Carolyn said of Franklin during her time with White. She had her third child with him but divorced him in 1969. In the next decade, Franklin managed to get her drinking (but not her eating) under control. Her sex life continued to be messy and - like her father - fame went to her head.

"She was the Queen of Soul- and I think at times she saw her boyfriends like her servants," said her former lover Dennis Edwards, lead singer of The Temptations. She had another child by Ken Cunningham, her road manager, and married second husband Glynn Turman, an actor, in 1978. By then, her first run of hit records had dried up but Franklin never stopped struggling to remain relevant to audiences.

Franklin's mental health was fragile and she was oppressed by the pressures of her industry, said her sister Carolyn.

"She was afraid she wasn't good enough as a singer, pretty enough as a woman, or devoted enough as a mother," she said. "I don't know what to call it but deep, deep insecurity. Her style was to either drink away the anxiety or, when that stopped working, disappear for a while, find her bearings, and go right back onstage and wear the crown of the impervious diva."

Her brother, Cecil, repeatedly had her hospitalised in a remote Connecticut clinic for "nervous exhaustion". She would seemingly recover and dive back into her career, only to end up in hospital again.

Franklin recorded hundreds of tracks and had dozens of hits over the span of a half century, including 20 that reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. Photo / AP
Franklin recorded hundreds of tracks and had dozens of hits over the span of a half century, including 20 that reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. Photo / AP

Irked by rumours of her mental instability, Franklin fed the press with fabricated stories about her wonderful life, concocting stories about mystery lovers and once announcing she was getting married to a man who knew nothing about it.

She was deeply jealous of other stars. Recording a song with the Gospel star Mavis Staples, Franklin insisted Staples' voice was turned down so much it was barely audible. She saw Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross in particular as rivals for her crown.

Friendships with other singers were short lived before Franklin took offence at some perceived slight and put them on what she called her "sh*t list". In 1989, she sang a duet with Whitney Houston (It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Never Gonna Be).

Houston was at the time the biggest pop star in the world but still found Franklin aloof and unfriendly. She "entered the studio as Queen Aretha, the original diva", she observed. When the song failed to become a hit, Franklin blamed Houston, saying: "Whitney lacked [her] wisdom and maturity as a recording artist".

She could be diva-ish with male stars too. Luther Vandross never got over her insistence on calling him 'Vandross' and he calling her "Miss Franklin" when he produced a 1981 album for her.

Flowers and signs are placed on Aretha Franklin's star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo / AP
Flowers and signs are placed on Aretha Franklin's star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo / AP

"Falling-outs are her specialty," said Ruth Bowen, her booking agent and a longtime friend. She clashed with her family, too. Her two sisters were both talented singers but the fiercely competitive Franklin sometimes tried to hold back their careers.

She further clashed with her family members about the care of her father when he spent his last five years in a coma after being shot during a robbery attempt in 1979. Determined not to show weakness, she never got the professional help which her family believe she needed.

"She takes her suffering and turns it into anger," said her brother Cecil. "It's all about diva drama. It's hard for her to deal with extreme sadness and loss. Rather than deal, she acts out. She goes to rage. Rage without reason. It's crazy."

Franklin developed a terror of travel and particularly flying, boarding her last plane in 1982. She would only travel on tour by bus and, even then, refused to go through the Rockies or drive in bad weather. Her consequent inability to play either abroad or on the West Coast severely hampered her singing success.

Franklin's ego - along with her career - was saved by, of all people, Bill Clinton. Keen to capture the black vote, he asked her to sing at the Democrat national convention in 1992.

On becoming president, he repaid the favour by inviting her the White House and various official functions - the publicity kickstarting her flagging career. She bought a mink coat so big it needed to have its own seat when she took it out with her, such as to watch a performance of Sunset Boulevard.

Her habit of not turning up to recording studios and performances continued to ensure her finances failed to keep up with her extravagance. The department store Saks Fifth Avenue sued her for long overdue bills that amounted to more than $262,000 for furs and shoes. It was one of more than 30 lawsuits brought against her by plumbers, caterers, florists and the like for not paying their bills.

Does any of this unpleasantness ultimately matter, fans may ask, given she was one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. As Franklin once told her sister Erma: "If Queen Elizabeth gets to be queen for the duration of her life, why not Queen Aretha.' It took a brave contender for her throne to argue."