Ronnie Spector, ’60s icon and frontwoman of The Ronettes who sang Be My Baby, dead of cancer at 78
Ronnie Spector, frontwoman of The Ronettes who sang Be My Baby, dies aged 78: Escaped marriage to Phil Spector after he showed her gold coffin in basement and promised he would put her in it if she ever left him
Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes has died at the age of 78 after a brief cancer battle
The New York-born singer is famed for 1960s hits Be My Baby and Walking in the Rain
She was married for six years to Phil Spector, the disgraced music producer who died in January 2021 while in prison for the 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson
Her family paid tribute to the ‘twinkle in her eye, spunky attitude, wicked sense of humor and smile on her face’
Ronnie Spector, the cat-eyed, bee-hived rock ‘n’ roll siren who sang such 1960s hits as Be My Baby, Baby I Love You, and Walking in the Rain as the leader of the girl group The Ronettes, has died at 78.
The music icon passed away on Wednesday following a brief battle with cancer, according to her family.
Her loved ones released a statement which read: ‘Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humor and a smile on her face. She was filled with love and gratitude.’
Ronnie Spector married music producer Phil Spector in 1968, a year after The Ronettes disbanded. She would later reveal details of his abusive relationship, saying he kept her locked in their Beverly Hills mansion.
Her 1990 autobiography ‘Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts And Madness’ tells an unhappy story of abuse.
In her memoir, she wrote that he had essentially held her prisoner during their relationship, surrounding her with guard dogs and taking away her shoes, and threatened to hire a hit man to kill her.
He installed chain-link fences and barbed wire around their home, and tied her up and locked her in a closet.
The eccentric and volatile music producer was known for pulling guns on the artists he worked with – among them Blondie and The Beatles – and also threatened his wife with guns.
Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes (seen in December 2018) has died aged 78 after a brief battle with cancer
Ronnie Spector (right) is seen with Phil Spector in the recording studio in 1963. They married in 1968 and divorced in 1974 after a tumultuous marriage
On the rare occasions he allowed her out alone, she had to drive with a life-size dummy of her husband.
‘I’d get drunk so I could go to rehab, just to get out of the house,’ she told The New York Times in a 2000 interview.
Dodai Stewart of The New York Times noted: ‘She said that Phil put a gold coffin with a glass top in their basement, promising that he would kill her and display her corpse if she ever left him… She escaped the mansion barefoot and without any belongings…’
The couple divorced in 1974, with Ronnie saying: ”I knew if I didn’t leave at that time, I was going to die there.’
In the 1980s, The Ronettes sued Phil Spector, claiming he had only given them $15,000 for their entire royalties.
At the trial, which spanned 15 years, Spector said her former husband had stifled her singing career and threatened her into signing a 1974 divorce settlement that forfeited all future record profits.
‘He told me, ”I’ll kill you,” and said, ”I’ll have a hit man kill you,” she testified.
Phil Spector was later sent to prison in 2009 for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson, who he had met hours earlier – he claimed that she had died by suicide in his castle-like mansion in California, saying it was an ‘accidental suicide’ and that she ‘kissed the gun’.
The court found that he had shot her in the mouth, and his driver testified that he told him: ‘I think I just shot her.’
He died of COVID-19 in prison in January 2021, aged 81.
Phil Spector is seen in court in May 2005, during his trial for the 2003 murder of Clarkson
The Ronettes (seen left to right: Nedra Talley, Estelle Bennett and Veronica Bennett, later Ronnie Spector) were one of the premier girl groups of the 1960s, with their sexy look and powerful voices
Spector’s memoir – with a foreword by Keith Richards – was published in 2004
Phil Spector is seen at his 2009 sentencing, when he was handed a 19 years to life term for the 2003 murder
Phil Spector is seen in 2004, during a court hearing. He was convicted for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson and died in prison in January 2021
Clarkson’s death stunned the music industry.
Phil Spector met the 40-year-old on the night of February 2, 2003, when she was working at the Los Angeles club House of Blues.
She went home with him, and about an hour later her body was found slumped in a chair with a single gunshot wound to her mouth, with broken teeth scattered over the carpet.
The prosecution said that he had pulled a gun on four other women. In each case, he had been drinking and ‘was romantically interested in the woman, but grew angry after the woman spurned him’.
In September 2007, a mistrial was declared due to a hung jury.
In October 2008, a second trial begun, and in April 2009 he was convicted.
Phil Spector was sentenced to 19 years to life, and was due to be eligible for parole in 2024.
Earlier, he had also been sued by The Ronettes for stiffing them out of royalties.
The group won an award of $2.6 million in 2000, after a trial lasting 15 years – but the decision was overturned on appeal two years later, and their families later said they wound up earning substantially less.
‘I was so controlled by Phil, and now I have my own ideas,’ Ronnie Spector said at the time.
‘With this lawsuit over, I’m only looking forward: to my future, to singing rock ‘n’ roll.’
When her ex-husband died, she was gracious.
‘Working with Phil Spector was working with the best,’ Ronnie said.
‘So much to love about those days. Falling in love was like a fairytale. The magical music we made was inspired by our love.
‘He was a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband. The music is forever 1939-2021.’
Spector’s final tweet was a photo of her with David Bowie, to mark his birthday.
‘Remembering Bowie on his birthday. Here we are getting into the car back in the day when we could go outside!,’ she said, on January 8.
The Ronettes’ sexy look and powerful voices – plus songwriting and producing help from Phil Spector – turned them into one of the premier acts of the girl-group era, touring England with the Rolling Stones and befriending the Beatles.
Spector, alongside her sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley, scored hits with pop masterpieces like Baby, I Love You, Walking in the Rain, I Can Hear Music and Be My Baby, which was co-written by Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.
‘We weren’t afraid to be hot. That was our gimmick,’ Spector said in her memoir.
‘When we saw The Shirelles walk on stage with their wide party dresses, we went in the opposite direction and squeezed our bodies into the tightest skirts we could find.
‘Then we’d get out on stage and hike them up to show our legs even more.’
The book, published in 2004, detailed her career and her tempestuous marriage to the music producer, telling in graphic detail about the horrors of her relationship with Phil Spector.
Joan Jett tweeted: ‘Our dear friend Ronnie Spector, has passed. She was the sweetest person you could ever know. And her mark on rock and roll is indelible.’
Questlove, the DJ and record producer, tweeted simply: ‘Legend.’
Al Jardine, who co-founded the Beach Boys with Wilson, said he was ‘so sad to hear about Ronnie.’
The Ronettes grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, and are seen in 1964
Spector, born Veronica Bennett, and her multiracial bandmates grew up in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan.
The Bennett sisters had black, American Indian and Irish blood, while Talley was black, Indian and Puerto Rican.
Estelle Bennett dated both George Harrison and Mick Jagger.
They began singing and dancing in clubs as Ronnie and the Relatives, becoming noteworthy for their liberal use of eyeliner and mascara.
‘The louder they applauded, the more mascara we put on the next time,’ she wrote in her memoir.
‘We didn’t have a hit record to grab their attention, so we had to make an impression with our style. None of it was planned out; we just took the look we were born with and extended it.’
In March 1963, Estelle Bennett managed to arrange an audition in front of Phil Spector, known for his big, brass-and-drum style dubbed the ‘wall of sound.’
Spector released the album English Heart in 2016 – a covers album that was her fifth studio record
Ronnie Spector is seen with her band mates Nedra Talley and Estelle Bennett
They were signed to Phillies Records in 1963.
After being signed, they sang backup for other acts until Spector had the group record ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Baby I Love You.’
The group’s debut album, ‘Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica,’ was released in 1964. Five of its 12 tracks had made it to the U.S. Billboard charts.
‘Nothing excites me more than just being onstage, having fun and flirting and winking to the guys and stuff like that,’ she told People magazine in 2017.
‘I just have so much fun. It’s just the best feeling when I go out and they say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen…’ – my heart stops for a minute – ‘…Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes!’
‘Then I just go out there and the crowd reacts the way they react and I can go on singing forever.’
Spector is pictured in the press room after performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on March 15, 2010, in New York
After touring Germany in 1967, the Ronettes broke up.
Ronnie Spector’s influence was felt far and wide.
Brian Wilson became obsessed with ‘Be My Baby’ and Billy Joel wrote ‘Say Goodbye to Hollywood’ in Spector’s honor.
Amy Winehouse frequently cited Spector as an idol.
Martin Scorsese used ‘Be My Baby’ to open his 1973 film ‘Mean Streets’ and the song appears in the title sequence of ‘Dirty Dancing’ and the closing credits of ‘Baby Mama.’
It also appeared on TV in ‘Moonlighting’ and ‘The Wonder Years.’
When the Ronettes were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones remembered opening for the trio in England in the mid-1960s.
‘They could sing all their way right through a wall of sound,’ Richards said.
‘They didn’t need anything. They touched my heart right there and then and they touch it still.’
After the Ronettes broke up, Spector continued to tour and make music, including ‘Take Me Home Tonight’ with Eddie Money, recording Joel’s ‘Say Goodbye to Hollywood’ with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and recording the 1999 EP ‘She Talks to Rainbows’. The song included her first ever recording of ‘Don’t Worry Baby,’ written for her by Brian Wilson.
In 2006, she released ‘Last of the Rock Stars,’ her first album in 20 years, and it featured appearances by the Raconteurs, Keith Richards, Patti Smith and the Raveonettes.
In 2010 she released a doo-wop Christmas EP called ‘Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever’ and in 2016 released ‘English Heart,’ her covers of songs from Britain in the ’60s.
She is survived her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and two sons, Jason and Austin.
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys led tributes, tweeting: ‘I just heard the news about Ronnie Spector and I don’t know what to say.
‘I loved her voice so much and she was a very special person and a dear friend. This just breaks my heart. Ronnie’s music and spirit will live forever. Love & Mercy, Brian.’
Steve Van Zandt, music producer and member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, paid tribute to her career, spanning four decades.
‘RIP Ronnie Spector,’ he said.
‘It was an honor to Produce her and encourage her to get back on stage where she remained for the next 45 years.
‘Her record with the E Street Band helped sustain us at a very precarious time (thanks to Steve Popovich). Condolences to her husband and family.’
Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles said: ‘Peace and Love, Ronnie Spector’.
Elijah Wood, star of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, said: ‘Farewell, legend and music icon Ronnie Spector.
‘I imagine Be My Baby will play on repeat across the globe today.’