Helen Reddy, the 1970s pop star and cultural icon behind the hit song “I Am Woman,” has died at 78.
Reddy died Tuesday afternoon at her home in Los Angeles. Her children, Traci Donat and Jordan Summers, confirmed the news on Reddy’s official Facebook page, writing, ″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.″
Australian-born Reddy was regarded as a queen of 1970s pop, reigning as the world’s top-selling female singer in 1973 and 1974. Her biggest hit, 1971’s ″I Am Woman,″ catapulted Reddy to new heights as a feminist icon, and the song became the unofficial anthem of the women’s movement, still often played and quoted from at women’s marches today. Reddy won a Grammy for the song, and famously caused a stir by thanking God, ″because she makes everything possible.″
Her other hits included ″Delta Dawn,″ ″Angie Baby,″ Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress),″ and ″Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady.″
Reddy also made waves on screen, starring in her own weekly television variety program, The Helen Reddy Show. She also starred in Disney’s Pete Dragon, in which she sang the Oscar-nominated ″Candle On the Water.″ Reddy was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in Airport 1975.
She was the subject of the biopic I Am Woman, which was released this month and stars Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Reddy.
Helen Reddy was born into a well-known show business family on Oct. 25, 1941, in Melbourne. Her mother was an actress, and her father was a writer, producer, and actor. From the age of 4, Reddy joined her parents as a performer on the Australian vaudeville circuit.
In 1966, Reddy came to New York City after winning a talent contest on Australian television show Bandstand, which touted its top prize as a chance to cut a single for Mercury Records in New York. When she arrived, with only $200 to her name and a return ticket to Australia, she was told that the prize was only a chance to audition — and Mercury did not wish to record a single with her.
She struggled for several years, performing in night clubs. Reddy famously met her husband and manager Jeff Wald at a party a friend threw for her that charged an admission price of $5 to help Reddy make her rent and afford to stay in the United States. The couple relocated to Los Angeles in 1969, and Wald eventually began to find success as a manager for musical groups.
After pressure from Reddy, Wald helped kickstart her recording career. She scored a hit with the B-side to her second single, a cover of ″I Don’t Know How to Love Him,″ from the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Following the success of that single, Reddy signed a recording contract with Capitol Records.
″I Am Woman″ was to become her biggest success and her first No. 1 hit. She wrote the iconic lyrics, ″I am woman, hear me roar/In numbers too big to ignore″ and paired it with music penned by Ray Burton. The song made her the first Australian singer to ever top the U.S. music charts.
Throughout the 1970s, Reddy had over a dozen Top 40 hits, including two more No. 1s, ″Delta Dawn″ and ″Angie Baby.″ 1983’s Imagination marked her final original album as a recording artist, coming just after the finalization of her divorce from Wald, whose interference she cited as the reason for the decline of her career in the 1980s.
In addition to numerous guest-starring roles and appearances on various television series and variety shows, Reddy semi-regularly hosted NBC’s variety show The Midnight Special from 1973 to 1975. Throughout the 1980s, she also embarked on a successful career in musicals on Broadway and in London’s West End.
Reddy officially retired from show business in 2002, though she did occasionally make appearances, making a voice cameo as herself in a 2007 episode of Family Guy and performing in small nightclubs and at benefit performances. She found a second career as a practicing clinical hypnotherapist.
In 2006, she published the memoir The Woman I Am.
One of her final public performances came in 2017, where she was a guest at the Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles. Reddy was introduced by Jamie Lee Curtis and broke into an a capella rendition of ″I Am Woman.″
Reddy was diagnosed with dementia in August 2015.
She is survived by her daughter, Traci, and son, Jordan, as well as her granddaughter Lily, who made a cameo appearance in I Am Woman.