The singer, whose career was celebrated in the 2019 biopic of the same name, had been diagnosed with dementia several years ago
Stephanie Convery – The Guardian
The Australian singer Helen Reddy has died aged 78. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Helen Reddy, the Australian singer best known for her anthemic 1972 hit I Am Woman, has died at 78.
Reddy had been diagnosed with dementia in 2015 and had been living in a Los Angeles nursing home for professional entertainers.
A statement from Reddy’s children, Traci and Jordan, was posted to her official fan page on Tuesday afternoon.
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved mother, Helen Reddy, on the afternoon of September 29th 2020 in Los Angeles,” the statement said.
“She was a wonderful Mother, Grandmother and a truly formidable woman. Our hearts are broken. But we take comfort in the knowledge that her voice will live on forever.”
Reddy might have once been famously called the “queen of housewife rock” by Alice Cooper, but her music captured the zeal of a generation of women radicalised by the sixties and a nascent second-wave feminist movement.
Reddy became a star despite pushback from record companies at the time, many of which believed there was little money to be made in music by women. In the early 70s, Reddy’s songs dominated the Billboard charts. In 1972, she won a Grammy for best female pop vocal for I Am Woman, becoming the first Australian to do so. She was the world’s top-selling female vocalist in 1973 and 1974.
By the end of her career Reddy had 15 top 40 singles and three no. 1 hits, including her most popular, I Am Woman, and had sold more than 25m albums in the United States alone.
Reddy was born in Melbourne in 1941 to a family embedded in the performing arts. She left school at 15 to perform on the road with them, before launching an independent career.
At the age of 20, Reddy met and married musician Kenneth Weate. The relationship was short-lived; after it ended, Reddy moved back to Sydney with her baby daughter, Traci.
She moved to New York in 1966 with Traci after winning a talent competition that offered the winner a potential recording opportunity for Mercury Records. She was unsuccessful but undaunted, and decided to remain in the States and try to make a career as a singer, despite having very little money and few prospects. Due to issues with her visa, she made trips back and forth to Canada to work.
In 1968, she met her future music manager Jeff Wald at a party. The couple were married quickly, and Reddy decided to stay in the US.
Reddy, Wald and Traci lived frugally until, after frequent lobbying, Wald managed to secure Reddy the opportunity to record a single at Capital Records. It was the intended B-side of that single, I Don’t Know How To Love Him, from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, that kicked off Reddy’s career, reaching no. 13 on the Billboard charts in 1971.
I Am Woman was released the following year, and by December had topped the charts, making Reddy the first Australian singer to have a number one hit in the United States.
I Am Woman set off a chain of hits for the Reddy, including Delta Dawn, Angie Baby, Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) and You and Me Against the World. By the mid-70s, she was performing to packed out crowds in Vegas, with the likes of Joan Rivers and Barry Manilow opening for her.
She appeared on talk shows and variety programs, including The Bobby Darin Show, The Muppet Show, and took up a recurring co-hosting slot on The Midnight Special.
Reddy also developed a minor film and TV career, including roles in the thriller Airport 1975 (1974) and the family film, Pete’s Dragon (1977). Later in life, she would cameo as herself on Family Guy.
Reddy’s music career had tapered off by the 1980s, but I Am Woman still reverberated around the industry, reappearing in film and TV soundtracks and as pop culture shorthand for feminist empowerment. In 2006, Reddy was inducted in to the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame.
Reddy’s former husband and manager Jeff Wald reflected in a piece for the Guardian in August this year on the attitudes of the record companies to Reddy’s success. “The record executives said: ‘How can you let your wife do that women’s lib crap? It’ll end her career!’” he said. “I don’t ‘let her’ do anything. I didn’t marry somebody that you gotta ‘let’.”
His comments came as Reddy’s life and career were immortalised in a feature film, I Am Woman, directed by Unjoo Moon and starring Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Reddy.
Moon paid tribute to Reddy in a statement on Tuesday, saying: “When I first met Helen Reddy she told me that I would be in her life for many years. What followed was an amazing seven-year friendship during which she entrusted me with telling her story in a film that celebrates her life, her talents and her amazing legacy.
“I will forever be grateful to Helen for teaching me so much about being an artist, a woman and a mother. She paved the way for so many and the lyrics that she wrote for I Am Woman changed my life forever like they have done for so many other people and will continue to do for generations to come.”
Reddy is survived by her children, Traci and Jordan, and her sister Toni Lamond.