Ronnie Spector: who was Ronettes singer’s husband, did she have children, and tributes - as she dies at 78

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The Ronettes singer was known for such 1960s songs as ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Walking In The Rain’

US musician Ronnie Spector has died aged 78.

The Ronettes singer was known for such 1960s hits as ‘Be My Baby’, ‘Baby I Love You’ and ‘Walking In The Rain’, and died on 12 January after a brief battle with cancer, her family said.

The Ronettes, famous for their striking looks and powerful voices, were one of the premier acts of the girl-group era, touring England with the Rolling Stones and befriending the Beatles.

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Spector’s family said she had lived her life with “a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humour and a smile on her face”.

She is survived by her husband, Jonathan Greenfield, and two sons, Jason and Austin.

Here is everything you need to know about her.

Who was Ronnie Spector?

Born in Manhattan in 1943 as Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett, she, her sister Estelle and cousin Nedra Talley were encouraged to sing together by their large family.

They sang together for years, and earned a local following as The Darling Sisters, later Ronnie And The Relatives, before finding fame as The Ronettes.

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It happened when, after a few flop releases, in 1963, they were signed to producer Phil Spector’s Philles Records.

Shortly after, armed with signature beehive hairdos and some of the decade’s best songs, they became a phenomenon, pioneering what has come to be known as the ‘girl group’ sound.

The Ronettes in 1964 (Photo: Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)The Ronettes in 1964 (Photo: Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Ronettes in 1964 (Photo: Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Who was she married to?

Ronnie Spector was once married to pop producer Phil Spector between the years of 1968 and 1972; she described him as “a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband”.

Phil produced Ronnie’s music when she was in The Ronettes, though she claimed in a memoir that he would keep her prisoner in his mansion and threatened to kill her.

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Ronnie was allowed to leave once a month to visit a pharmacy, and if she was gone longer than 20 minutes, her husband would send a bodyguard to find her.

Writing on Instagram after his death, she said: “Unfortunately Phil was not able to live and function outside of the recording studio. Darkness set in, many lives were damaged.”

Speaking to the Edinburgh Evening News in 2016, Ronnie said she has spoken about her union with Phil “plenty in the past”, and didn’t really want to dwell on a marriage during which she “cried every night”.

She didn’t perform live from the day they were married, instead sending out the other two members of the group with another singer to take her place.

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While Phil’s songs and production did help make the band, his behaviour ended Ronnie’s career for a time, and sapped her spirit.

Thankfully, her mother saw what was happening and helped get her out - Ronnie’s escape took place barefoot, because Phil used to hide her shoes.

Ronnie and Phil did not have any children together, and were divorced in 1974.

She later married her manager Jonathan Greenfield in 1982.

They lived in Danbury, Connecticut, and were together until her death. They have two sons, Austin Drew and Jason Charles.

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Who has paid tribute?

Brian Wilson and Gene Simmons are among those who have paid tribute to the “iconic” musician.

The singer’s famous friends described her as a “special person” and said her spirit would “live on forever”.

Beach Boys co-founder Wilson, who reportedly became obsessed with Be My Baby, said he was heartbroken by the news.

“I just heard the news about Ronnie Spector and I don’t know what to say,” he tweeted. “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.”

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Remembering Spector, Kiss bassist Simmons said: “RIP Ronnie Spector. The iconic voice of the Ronettes.

“I was proud to have spent some time with Ronnie at A&M Studios, listening to her tell stories about the early years of rock ‘n roll. She will be missed.”

When is her biopic out?

In September 2020, it was announced that actress Zendaya will portray Spector in a film biopic adapted from her memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts And Madness.

Spector personally chose Zendaya to portray her.

There’s no word yet on when the film might finally be released.

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