August 16, 2018 03:25 PM

Aretha Franklin received a visit from her ex-husband Glynn Turman in her final days, and the actor is opening exclusively to PEOPLE about his fond memories of the late singer.

“I felt her pulse holding her frail, frail arm,” the actor, 71, says about his final moments with Franklin, whom he calls “a love of my life.”

“I was able to feel her pulse, which was strong. So she was fighting ’til the very end,” he says of the star, who died of pancreatic cancer at age 76 on Thursday morning. “She’s always been a warrior — a strong, strong woman and a fighter. Her pulse told me that she was not in surrender mode. She was going to fight it ’til the end.”

During his visit, Franklin was conscious but unable to communicate with Turman and Stevie Wonder. Still, “she did know that I was there,” he says. “And we were able to feed off of that recognition, feed off of the moment of both sort of realizing that time was extremely precious at this time. So it was a moment full of closure.”

Franklin and Turman, who did not have children together, wed in 1978, separated in 1982 and divorced in 1984. Franklin never married again but remained close to longtime love Willie Wilkerson until her death, while Turman married once more.

RELATED: Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin Has Died of Pancreatic Cancer at Age 76

Turman and Franklin circa 1980
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

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Despite their marriage ending, Turman says he and Franklin “remained friends over the years” and would often speak on the phone, mostly about a film she was working on.

Turman saw a side of Franklin, a mother to four sons (Ted White Jr., 54, Clarence Franklin, 63, Kecalf Cunningham, 48, and Edward Franklin, 61), that the public did not always see. “The good times were wonderful. The things we were able to share, things we were able to do together, the concerts that we were able to share,” he recalls.

“People think of her often as an iconic singer, an iconic performer, but they don’t necessarily remember that she was a mother and a wife and someone’s lover,” he adds. “There was that part that I’m glad I got to know about.”

Aretha Franklin
Taylor Hill/Getty

Now, he will remember Franklin’s humor and stubborn streak. “She was hilarious,” he says. “She had a roster of jokes and could make funny situations out of situations that you wouldn’t think … were funny.”

At the same time, Franklin was “stubborn, stubborn as hell,” he adds. “Women’s Rights Movement should have her name written all over. She just didn’t take tea for the fever, as the old folks would say. She was stubborn and hard to persuade. When she got her mind made up on something, you might as well pretty much forget trying to change it.”

Turman believes that Franklin was aware of all the warm thoughts that fans and friends were sending her way before she died. “I’m sure she knew of all the people who cared about her,” he says. “I think that the people who were taking care of her continually told her of all the good wishes that were coming through.”

RELATED: Aretha Franklin Dead at 76: Celebrities Pay Tribute to the Queen of Soul

The Queen of Soul’s family released a statement on Thursday announcing her death: “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,” her family said. “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.”

The statement continued, “We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”

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