Ronnie Spector, one of the best-known figures of the 1960s girl-group era, died Wednesday, her family confirmed in a statement on her website. She was 78. Spector died of cancer “with family and in the arms of her husband, Jonathan,” per the statement. In 1957, Spector, born Veronica Bennett, formed a vocal group with her sister and cousin that went on to become the Ronettes. They released their first singles on Colpix Records in 1962 but failed to gain traction at the label. In 1963, the Ronettes moved to Philles Records under the direction of producer Phil Spector, who worked with a number of girl groups. The Ronettes shaped pop music in the mid-1960s with their signature song “Be My Baby” as well as hits like “Baby, I Love You” and “Walking in the Rain.” The Ronettes broke up in 1967; in the decades after, Ronnie Spector attempted to launch a solo career, eventually releasing her first solo album, Siren, in 1980. She also sang backup for a number of other musicians, including Eddie Money on his 1986 hit “Take Me Home Tonight.”
She married Phil Spector, her producer, in 1968; their relationship began shortly after they started working together. In her memoir, Be My Baby, she claimed he had been abusive and threatened her life at multiple points before she eventually escaped their mansion — barefoot, because he kept her shoes — in 1972 and filed for divorce. Phil Spector was later convicted in the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson and died in prison in 2021. Ronnie Spector went on to marry her manager, Jonathan Greenfield, in 1984.
Ronnie Spector’s legacy lives on in part through the Ronettes’ Christmas music, which includes 1963 recordings of “Sleigh Ride,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which have become holiday standards. In December, the Ronettes hit the top ten of the Billboard “Hot 100” for the first time since 1963 with “Sleigh Ride.” Zendaya is set to play Spector in an upcoming A24 biopic, a choice that was reportedly endorsed by Spector. In the statement announcing Spector’s death, her family requested donations to women’s shelters or the American Indian College Fund. “Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humor and a smile on her face,” her family wrote. “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.”
Zendaya recounted her relationship with the late Spector in an Instagram post on January 13, sharing a 2018 photo of the two together. “Ronnie, being able to know you has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” the actress wrote. “Thank you for sharing your life with me, I could listen to your stories for hours and hours. Thank you for your unmeasured talent, your unwavering love for performing, your strength, resilience and your grace. There is absolutely nothing that could dim the light you cast.” The actor went on to reference her role as Spector in an upcoming film, adding, “I hope to make you proud.”
This post has been updated.