Singer Helen Reddy, the vocalist whose anthemic pop classic “I Am Woman” became synonymous with the feminist movement, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. She was 78.
In a statement, her children Traci Donat and Jordan Summers said:
“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. 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 was born October 25, 1941, in Melbourne, Australia, to a family already in the entertainment business. She debuted as a live entertainer at age 4, won a talent contest on the TV series Bandstand in 1966, but didn't have her first U.S. hit until she was nearly 30, with the B-side of her debut single. “I Don't Know How to Love Him” (1971) from Jesus Christ Superstar hit #13, and landed her a lucrative Capitol Records album deal that lasted a decade.
Across the '70s, Reddy became a potent hitmaker for Capitol on the singles chart, including with “I Am Woman” (#1, 1972), “Peaceful” (#12, 1973), “Delta Dawn” (#1, 1973), “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)” (#3, 1973), “Keep on Singing” (#15, 1974), “You and Me Against the World” (#9, 1974), “Angie Baby” (#1, 1974), “Emotion” (#22, 1975) and “Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady” (#8, 1975).
Part of what powered Reddy's success was her omnipresence on TV and even in films as an actress.
Her The Helen Reddy Show (1973) exemplified '70s variety shows, and she would continue to host specials, including this one, in 1979, which featured Jane Fonda singing.
Reddy she scored on the big screen in Airport '75 (Golden Globe nomination, 1975) and Pete's Dragon (1977), the latter of which contained the sumptuous tune “Candle on the Water.”
Her supremacy on the charts — she released 18 studio albums, two of which hit the Top 10 in the U.S., and eight of which achieved at least gold status — cooled precipitously by the '80s, when she lost her Capitol recording contract, though not before an attempt at remodeling her as a New Wave singer with “Imagination” (1983). In the video, she demonstrated a Debbie Harry vocal and an absolutely killer figure in her forties ... to no avail.
Though retired for many years (since about 2002, though she came back for a spell from 2012) and battling dementia, Reddy was a popular resident of the Motion Picture Retirement Home, appeared at an autograph show several years ago and was the subject of the 2019 biopic I Am Woman, starring Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Evan Peters and Danielle Macdonald. The film's (woman) director Unjoo Moon said via statement upon learning of Reddy's passing:
“When I first met Helen Reddy she told me that I would be in her life for many years. What followed was an amazing 7-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. She will always be a part of me and I will miss her enormously. On behalf of all of us involved in making the film I am Woman, producer Rosemary Blight and I extend our condolences to Helen’s family especially her children Traci and Jordan, her granddaughter Lily and her ex-husband Jeff.”
She was one of the greats.