Ronnie Spector, The Ronettes Lead Singer, Dead at 78

Ronnie Spector, the voice of several iconic 1960s classics like "Be My Baby" and "Walking in the Rain" as a member of the Ronettes, has died at the age of 78. She died after a brief battle with cancer, her family said in a statement Wednesday.

"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," the family's statement 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. Her joyful sound, playful nature and magical presence will live on in all who knew, heard or saw her." In lieu of flowers, Spector asked that donations be made to local women's shelters or to the American Indian College Fund in her memory. Her family will announce a memorial at a later date.

Spector was born Veronica Yvette Bennett in New York City on Aug. 10, 1943. In the early 1960s, she gained attention as one-third of the Ronettes. After failing to find a hit with their first label, they signed with producer Phil Spector in 1963. Phil turned the group into a vehicle for his "Wall of Sound" production style, with booming and powerful vocal performances by Spector at the forefront. Their biggest singles included "Be My Baby," "Walking in the Rain," "The Best Part of Breakin' Up," "Baby, I Love You" and "I Can Hear Music."

After the Ronettes broke up in 1967, Spector pursued a solo career to little success. In 1986, she suddenly found herself a star again thanks to Eddie Money's hit "Take Me Home Tonight," in which she sang "be my little baby." The song revived interest in her music and she continued recording and performing. She released her last solo album, English Heart, in 2016.

Spector and Phil started an affair soon after the Ronettes signed to his label, unaware that he was married. They married in 1968 and adopted a son, Donte, the following year. Two years later, Phil surprisingly adopted twins. In 1972, Spector fled their mansion on her bare feet with the help of her mother. She testified that Phil often pulled out a gun during their marriage and threatened to kill her if she did not give up custody of their children. 

In a 2017 interview with the Telegraph, Spector said her mother told her she had to get out of the marriage. "She said, 'Honey, you're going to die here'. She knew," Spector recalled. They then planned her escape over two nights.

In her 1990 memoir Be My Baby, Spector wrote about the psychological torture Phil put her through during their marriage and accused him of sabotaging her career. In 1988, Spector and the other Ronettes members sued Phil for withholding royalties from sales and licensing of their songs. When he died in prison while serving 19 years to life for the murder of Lana Clarkson in January 2021, Spector called Phil a "lousy husband."

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"I loved him madly, and gave my heart and soul to him," Spector said after Specter's death. "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."

In 1982, Spector married her manager, Jonathan Greenfield. They had two sons, Austing Drew and Jason Charles. "I'm just a regular girl who loves the stage and who loves to sing," she told the Telegraph in 2017. "That's all I am. I'm not an 'icon' or 'legend' – I don't understand those words."