Ronnie Spector, best known as lead singer of the Ronnettes, had a turbulent personal life which saw her go through an abusive relationship with ex-husband Phil Spector including him threatening to kill her. Ronnie was known professionally by her former married name de ella but she was born Veronica Yvette Bennett in Harlem, New York in 1943.
Ronnie died at her home in Danbury on January 12 2022 at the age of 78 after being diagnosed with cancer. The BBC are airing a commemorative show looking back at the life and career of the former Ronnette’s lead singer and pioneer of Rock N Roll. The show will also contain some of Ronnie’s most memorable performances of hers.
Ronnie’s music career spanned over six decades and she continued creating music as a solo artist after the Ronnette’s split up. Her most famous tracks by her include Be My Baby and Walkin in the Rain, she was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Ronnettes back in 2007.
The 60s icon’s life was not without its tribulations and her relationship with Phil Spencer was responsible for many of Ronnie’s darkest moments. The pair began an affair soon after she had signed onto Phil’s label in 1963, though Ronnie was unaware Phil was married at the start of their relationship.
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Ronnie was even once apprehended by house detectives for prostitution after leaving Phil’s room at the Delmonico Hotel in New York City.
Phil was able to get Ronnie out of the situation by threatening the hotel but this would be the start of many unsatisfactory situations Ronnie would find herself in as a result of the music producer.
In her 1990 memoir, Be My Baby, Ronnie alleged that after their marriage in 1968, Phil subjected her to years of psychological torment and sabotaged her career by forbidding her to perform. She also said that he surrounded their house with barbed wire to prevent her from leaving.
The couple adopted their son Donte in 1969 and two years later they also adopted twins Louis and Gary. The family lives in Beverly Hills and the couple’s life together was far from the image of a perfect family.
Ronnie said that Phil had installed a golden coffin with a glass top in the basement of their home which he threatened would be used to display her corpse if she ever left him.
In 1972, Ronnie was able to flee Phil and the Beverly Hills mansion, with the help of her mother, through a broken window. She left with none of her belongings.
Whilst under the torment of Phil, Ronnie began drinking and she attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to escape from the house she was effectively trapped in.
Her divorce from Phil saw the forfeiting of all her future recording earnings and she later testified that he had pulled a gun on her, threatening to kill her unless she surrendered custody of the children to him.
Despite the traumatic relationship and her desire to escape from Phil completely, Ronnie retained her surname in a professional capacity as a way to transition back into her music career.
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Over 15 years later, Ronnie and the rest of the Ronettes – elder sister Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley – sued Phil $10million in damages and though it took a decade, Ronnie was eventually granted $1million in royalties.
Phil Spector was convicted of the murder of American actress and fashion model Lana Clarkson in 2009, six years after her death and he was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison, where he died in 2021.
A decade after her escape from Phil Spector, Ronnie married her manager Jonathan Greenfield and the couple had two sons and lived in Danbury, Connecticut together.
Ronnie died in Danbury, at her home, after more than four decades with her manager-turned-husband Jonathan.
Ronnie Spector at the BBC will be on BBC Two on Saturday January 12 at 8:30pm.
Trainee Reporter – LGBT+ Specialist. She previously worked for Daily Star, The Sun, Brixton Blog and South West Londoner.
Three stories written this month include an in-depth interview with LGBTQ+ activist Peter Tatchell ahead of the 50th anniversary of Gay Pride in the UK, an interview with an ex-Lieutenant Commander who had to keep his sexuality a secret in the Armed Forces for 20 years who lost his partner to AIDS two days before he left the Navy and a chat with the founder of The Gay Men’s Dance Company who offered professional training, pole dancing and a dance class in heels.
Got a story? You can reach me at [email protected] or DM me on Twitter @mattlspivey.