In Memoriam: Ronnie Spector (1943 – 2022)

Veronica Greenfield (born Veronica Yvette Bennett; August 10, 1943 – January 12, 2022), known as Ronnie Spector, was an American singer who formed the girl group the Ronettes in 1957 with her elder sister Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley. Bennett fronted the group while record producer Phil Spector produced the majority of their output. The two were married in 1968 and separated in 1972.

Bennett sang lead on the Ronettes’ string of hits in the early-to-mid–1960s, including “Be My Baby” (1963), “Baby, I Love You” (1963), “The Best Part of Breakin’ Up” (1964), and “Walking in the Rain” (1964). In 1964, she launched a solo career with the single “So Young”. After 1980, she released five studio albums: Siren (1980), Unfinished Business (1987), Something’s Gonna Happen (2003), Last of the Rock Stars (2006), and English Heart (2016). Bennett also recorded one extended play, She Talks to Rainbows (1999). In 1986, she experienced a career resurgence when she was featured on Eddie Money’s song “Take Me Home Tonight”.

Bennett was sometimes referred to as the original “bad girl of rock and roll”. In 1990, she published a memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, Or, My Life as a Fabulous Ronette. In 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Ronettes.

Bennett and Phil Spector began having an affair soon after she was signed to his label in 1963. Early in their relationship, she was unaware that he was married. Once, Bennett was busted by house detectives for prostitution at the Delmonico hotel in New York City after leaving a room they had booked. She was allowed to call Spector, who threatened the hotel, and then they allowed her leave. After Spector divorced his wife in 1965, he purchased a home in Beverly Hills, where he lived with Bennett.

They married at Beverly Hills City Hall on April 14, 1968. Bennett changed her surname and became known as Ronnie Spector. Their son Donté Phillip was adopted in 1969. Two years later, Phil surprised her with adopted twins, Louis and Gary, for Christmas.

Spector revealed in her 1990 memoir, Be My Baby, that after they married, Phil subjected her to years of psychological torment and sabotaged her career by forbidding her to perform. He surrounded their house with barbed wire and guard dogs, and confiscated her shoes to prevent her from leaving. On the rare occasions he allowed her out alone, she had to drive with a life-size dummy of Phil. Spector stated that Phil installed a gold coffin with a glass top in the basement, promising that he would kill her and display her corpse if she ever left him. She began drinking and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to escape the house.

In 1972, Spector fled their mansion barefoot and without any belongings with the help of her mother. “I knew that if I didn’t leave I was going to die there,” she said. In their 1974 divorce settlement, Ronnie forfeited all future record earnings after Phil threatened to have a hit man kill her. She received $25,000, a used car, and monthly alimony of $2,500 for five years. Spector later testified that Phil had frequently pulled a gun on her during their marriage and threatened to kill her unless she surrendered custody of their children.

Spector tried to rebuild her career, keeping his surname professionally because “I needed any way I could to get back in, I’d been kept away so long.” But Phil hired lawyers to prevent her singing her classic hit songs and denied her royalties. In 1988, Spector and the other Ronettes sued Phil for $10 million in damages, rescission of the contract, the return of the masters, and recoupment of money received from the sale of Ronettes masters. It took 10 years for the case to make it to trial, and after a prolonged legal battle, Phil was ordered to pay Spector over 1 million dollars in royalties.

In 1982, Spector married her manager Jonathan Greenfield. They lived in the area of Danbury, Connecticut with their two sons, Austin Drew and Jason Charles.

Spector died on January 12, 2022 from cancer, aged 78.

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