Singer Ronnie Spector dead at 78

Ronnie Spector
(Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Ronnie Spector, the former Ronettes singer known as the "bad girl of rock’n’roll", has died at the age of 78. 

The news was announced in a statement on her website. It read: "Our beloved earth angel, Ronnie, peacefully left this world today after 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 humour and a smile on her face. 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."

Spector was born Veronica Yvette Bennett in Manhattan, New York, in 1943, and formed The Darling Sisters with her sister Estelle and cousin Nedra in the early 1960s. They changed their name to The Ronettes and attracted the attention of producer Phil Spector, and together they achieved chart success with songs like Be My Baby, Baby, I Love You, The Best Part of Breakin' Up and Walking in the Rain. 

The Ronettes supported The Beatles on their US tour in 1966, and in the UK were the first girl group to generate a similar reaction to Beatlemania, with tabloid headlines proclaiming, “Girls scream at Stones, boys at Ronettes.” Ronnie subsequently became a confidante of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and, much later, the Ramones.

The Ronettes broke up in 1967, and the following year Ronnie married Phil Spector. In her 1990 memoir Be My Baby she revealed that she'd suffered years of psychological torment during their relationship, her husband forbidding her from performing or leaving the mansion they shared. 

The couple divorced in 1974, and Ronnie credited John Lennon with helping to resuscitate her career three years later, after Phil Spector's lawyers had prevented her from performing the hits they'd recorded together and withheld her royalties. 

"I’m walking down the street in New York and I hear this voice: 'Hey Ronnie! Ronnie Ronette!' It was John Lennon," Spector told Classic Rock. "There he was with [record producer] Jimmy Iovine. So I said, 'John, I’ve got to be in a recording studio. If I don’t record, I’m lost.' I told him the whole story of what was going on with Phil and he said, 'Ronnie, I’ll see you later.' 

"Sure enough, two days later Jimmy Iovine called me and said, 'Would you like to come down? We have a band and we have a song.' So thanks to John Lennon of all people, I got to record with Southside Johnny and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. I did Say Goodbye To Hollywood, which Billy Joel wrote."

Spector continued to tour, and released four solo albums: Siren in 1980, Unfinished Business in 1987, The Last Of The Rock Stars in 2006, and the covers album English Heart in 2016.

"You have to have all of the ingredients to be a rock’n’roll singer," she told us. "And one of those is you have to be a little sexy. You don’t have to be clothesless – it’s the way you look, and the way you look at your audience. I don’t see any performers out there today that relate just to the audience. 

"The Rolling Stones might be the exception because of Mick Jagger. Mick is a little like me: wild and sexy, all that stuff, but he’s relating to the audience. He looks all around the place and that’s what I do. That’s what people are missing today – you don’t need all those dancers. Just sing and perform to the people. Feel the people. Everything is for the people."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.