Ronnie Spector, the swaggering 1960s pop icon with the sky-high beehive whose sultry, quavering voice powered numerous hits for The Ronettes, including “Be My Baby,” has died, her family announced in a statement Wednesday.
She was 78.
“Our beloved earth angel, Ronnie, peacefully left this world today after a brief battle with cancer,” the family said. “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.”
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys has called “Be My Baby” the greatest pop recording ever produced.
Tributes to Spector’s talent began pouring in from music royalty.
“I just heard the news about Ronnie Spector and I don’t know what to say,” Wilson wrote on Twitter. “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.”
Joan Jett said Spector’s “mark on rock and roll is indelible.”
Born Veronica Bennett in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood of New York City, she formed the Ronettes in 1961 with an older sister and a cousin while she was still a teenager.
The group didn’t become famous until after they auditioned two years later for music producer Phil Spector, creator of the 1960s’ “Wall of Sound” style, who signed them to his label.
Fueled by the runaway success of “Be My Baby,” their first single for Spector, they toured the country with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars and reeled off a string of pop hits over the next several years, including “Baby I Love You,” “Walking in the Rain” and “Do I Love You?”
The girl group also became hugely popular in England, where the Ronettes headlined over acts such as the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds, according to Ronnie Spector’s website, and later opened for the Beatles on their final US tour in 1966.
The group broke up in 1967. Soon after Ronnie wed Phil Spector, with whom she had a tumultuous relationship. The couple divorced in 1974.
In her memoir, “Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness,” Ronnie Spector described her husband as controlling and emotionally abusive.
In social media posts after his death last year, she famously said, “he was a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband.”
By the mid-1970s, Ronnie Spector had launched a new career as a solo artist. Although she never again reached the commercial peak of her ’60s heyday, she returned to Top 40 radio singing with Eddie Money on his 1986 hit, “Take Me Home Tonight.”
In 1988, Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes sued Phil Spector for more than $10 million in royalties and licensing fees. A court eventually ordered him to pay the Ronettes royalties twice a year.
Phil Spector was later convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson and sentenced to 19 years in prison. He died behind bars.
Ronnie Spector continued to record music and perform well into her 70s.
Her family said she “was filled with love and gratitude. Her joyful sound, playful nature and magical presence will live on in all who knew, heard or saw her. In lieu of flowers, Ronnie requested that donations be made to your local women’s shelter or to the American Indian College Fund. A celebration of Ronnie’s life and music will be announced in the future. The family respectfully asks for privacy at this time.”