Ronnie Spector, the powerhouse vocalist and teenage protegé behind the 60s rock band the Ronettes, died on Wednesday at 78.
“Our beloved earth angel, Ronnie, peacefully left this world today,” her family wrote in a statement, adding that the star lost a brief battle with cancer. “She was with family and in the arms of her husband, Jonathan.”
“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,” they continued.
“Her joyful sound, playful nature and magical presence will live on in all who knew, heard or saw her.”
Spector, born Veronica Yvette Bennett in 1943, was known for singing hits including “Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain.”
Her trademark beehive and unapologetic bad-girl swagger made waves in the music industry when the rock group first hit the airwaves in 1963.
“We weren’t afraid to be hot. That was our gimmick,” Spector wrote 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 group’s first album, 1964’s “Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica,” was an instant hit, with five of its 12 tracks making it to the top of the US Billboard charts.
In 1968, after the Ronettes split, she married Phil Spector, the Wall of Sound producer behind the group’s hits.
“When I was working with Phil Spector, watching him create in the recording studio, I knew I was working with the very best,” she recently wrote on Instagram. “He was in complete control, directing everyone. So much to love about those days. Meeting him and falling in love was like a fairytale. The magical music we were able to make together, was inspired by our love. I loved him madly, and gave my heart and soul to him.”
But Spector, who has spoken in depth about abuse and vindictiveness she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband before and after their 1974 divorce, also referenced the bad times.
“As I said many times while he was alive, he was a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband. Unfortunately Phil was not able to live and function outside of the recording studio. Darkness set in, many lives were damaged. I still smile whenever I hear the music we made together, and always will. The music will be forever. Phil Spector 1939-2021,” she wrote.
Despite a relationship marred by abuse, they had three adopted children — Donté Phillip and twins, Louis and Gary. Phil was later sent to prison in 2009 for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. He died in 2020.
In 1982, she married her manager Jonathan Greenfield and had two sons, Austin Drew and Jason Charles.
Fans immediately paid tribute to her life and legacy on Twitter. One wrote, “Ronnie Spector. A rock and roll hero. A total badass. A survivor who took back her power. My admiration for her runs deep. May she Rest in Power.”
Another added, “Deeply saddened to hear that we lost Ronnie Spector today. She made pop music much cooler than it was, influenced everyone from Amy Winehouse to Missy Elliot. With the Ronettes, Ronnie smashed the girl group mold/allowed inspiring acts like Labelle to soar. #RonnieSpector #RIP.”
“In lieu of flowers, Ronnie requested that donations be made to your local women’s shelter or to the American Indian College Fund,” her family said in the statement. “A celebration of Ronnie’s life and music will be announced in the future. The family respectfully asks for privacy at this time.”