American singer and The Ronettes founder Ronnie Spector has died at 78. Get inside the iconic singer's life and meet her five surviving children.
Singer Ronnie Spector, the founder of the famous band the Ronettes, has died. She died at 78 on January 12, 2022. Ronnie formed the Ronettes with her older sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley in 1957.
She was the group's lead singer and sang the lead in some early-to-mid 1960s hit songs. Some of these songs include "Be My Baby," and "Walking in the Rain."
Before and after photo of late American singer Ronnie Spector. | Photo: Getty Images
Ronnie embarked on a solo career in 1964 and had released five studio albums after 1980. Thanks to the singer's musical exploits, she was sometimes referred to as the original "bad girl of rock and roll." Besides music, she wrote a memoir and was also an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ronnie's death has generated multiple reactions from fans and musicians as she contributed massively to the music industry's growth. Find out more about the iconic singer and some of her accomplishments.
Ronnie Spector performs live on stage during WOW - Women of the World Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, on March 9, 2014. | Photo: Getty Images
RONNIE'S TURBULENT FIRST MARRIAGE
Ronnie began an affair with Phil Spector, who helped her gain fame after signing to his record label in 1963. In the early days of their relationship, she did not know he was married.
However, he divorced his wife in 1965 and bought a home in Beverly Hills, after which Ronnie moved in with him. On April 14, 1968, Ronnie and Phil tied the knot at Beverly Hills City Hall.
Ronnie's marriage to Phil was far from a happy one for her as he subjected her to years of psychological torment. He also sabotaged her career by preventing her from performing.
Phil Spector faces Judge Larry Paul Fidler in a Los Angeles court on May 29, 2009, to hear his sentence for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. | Photo: Getty Images
Ronnie was imprisoned for seven years in her and Phil's Beverly Hills home. Within the walls, she was forced to watch "Citizen Kane" repeatedly and sing "You Came, You Saw, You Conquered" to her husband daily.
During an interview with The New Yorker, Ronnie revealed Phil never allowed her to read the newspaper or watch television. Thus, she was unaware of the developments around her and in the country.
Besides these, Phil also put barbed wires and guard dogs around the house. He also threatened her with guns multiple times in a bid to make her submit entirely to him.
Phil Spector with his attorney Doran Weinberg in Los Angeles County Superior Court on January 22, 2009. | Photo: Getty Images
Phil rarely allowed Ronnie to leave the house alone. When he did, she was forced to drive with a life-sized dummy of him. He reportedly installed a gold coffin with a glass top in the basement and promised to kill her and display her corpse if she dared to leave him.
Even while Phil was serving a prison sentence for murder, he continually tried to thwart her career after their divorce. For instance, he tried without success to keep her out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He also refused to allow her to sing her two biggest hits, "Be My Baby" and "Baby I Love You," because he co-wrote them.
RONNIE'S WORDS ABOUT HER LIBERATION
In a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Ronnie opened up about her divorce from Phil, which was finalized in 1974, two years after she fled their mansion barefoot and without any belongings with her mom's help.
When asked if it felt good to be liberated from Phil, Ronnie said he took singing away from her, which was devastating because she never thought she would ever record or perform again, which was what her life was about. She added:
"I was in shock with that because here's a person who wrote your records and produced them. … And then, you're never gonna sing again."
Ronnie admitted she did not know karma works until Phil went to prison. It was after that she knew karma's meaning. She explained:
"For seven years, I didn't go anywhere. I never saw a movie. I never did anything in California because everything was brought to me."
Phil died on January 16, 2021. Following his passing, Ronnie paid tribute to him despite the abusive nature of their marriage. In a Facebook post, she referred to Phil as the "best" and noted that it was a sad day for her and music in general.
Ronnie said Phil was in complete control and directed everyone and added that there was so much to love about those days. She also likened meeting and falling in love with Phil to a fairytale and added:
"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... he was a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband."
Ronnie said it was unfortunate that Phil could not live and function outside the recording studio as darkness set in and many lives were damaged. However, she said she smiled whenever she listened to the music they made together, adding that the music would live forever.
Ronnie's death resulted from a brief battle with cancer.
RONNIE'S FIVE CHILDREN
Ronnie was survived by five children. She and Phil shared three children, Donte Phillip Spector and twins Gary Phillip Spector and Louis Phillip Spector. Donte was born on March 23, 1969, while Gary and Louis were born on May 12, 1966.
Ronnie also shared two children, Jason Charles and Austin Drew, with her second husband, Jonathan Greenfield, whom she married in 1982. There is no information about when Jason and Austin were born.
After tying the knot, Greenfield became Ronnie's manager. After the couple welcomed their sons, Ronnie devoted her time raising them. However, in a 1999 interview with Billboard, she said she wanted to see her sons grow up. She also explained:
"Now that they're 15 and 16, I can start doing regular shows. It's [about] trying to have a real family, a real life, a real career, and real people around me."
Based on the year of the interview and the ages Ronnie said Jason and Austin were at the time, they would be 37 and 38 now. Meanwhile, Ronnie's three older children with Phil, Donte, Gary, and Louis, were all adopted during their marriage.
ABOUT TWINS ADOPTION
Ronnie and Phil adopted Donte in 1969. However, two years after his adoption, Phil surprised Ronnie for Christmas with adopted twins Gary and Louis.
In a 2018 chat with People, Ronnie revealed Phil did not tell her about the twins before adopting them. She revealed they were in a car when he pulled up to the mansion. There was a fountain, and the twins were running around.
Ronnie asked Phil what was happening, and he wished her a Merry Christmas. She said he never sought her opinion on the adoption. She explained:
"Everything was a surprise, and no woman wants live children as a surprise."
After this episode, her mother came along and told her she had to leave Phil or she would end up losing her life. With her mom's help, Ronnie eventually moved out of Phil's apartment and back to her hometown in New York, where she started over.
After her divorce from Phil, he was granted custody of the kids while she kept her stage name.
Ronnie's death resulted from a brief battle with cancer. In a statement, her family said she lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humor, and a smile on her face. They also said she was filled with love and gratitude.
Multiple tributes have flooded social media from several celebrities and fans. Author Don Winslow shared a video of one of Ronnie's iconic performances and hailed her voice in his caption.
Musician Brian Wilson also mourned the singer's demise. He said he loved her so much and that she was a very special person and a dear friend. Brian said he was heartbroken and concluded by saying Ronnie's music and spirit would live forever.
Singer and songwriter Stevie Van Zandt said it was an honor to produce Ronnie and encouraged her to get back on stage where she remained.
Writer Steve Silberman said Ronnie changed pop music with the Ronettes, escaped an abusive marriage with Phil, and spent years fighting for the royalties she deserved.
There is no doubt that many more tributes will continue to pour in from all quarters as the days go by. Ronnie was indeed a musical legend and deserved to be celebrated.