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Ronnie Spector became famous in the 1960s as the lead singer of the Ronettes, whose hits include "Be My Baby" and "Walking in the Rain".
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Over the next three years, the Ronettes cultivated an image modeled on the streetwise women of their Spanish Harlem roots. Spector in particular is now known as "the original bad girl of rock n' roll"—she and her band mates wore dark mascara and short skirts, which pushed the envelope at that time.
Phil Spector ultimately produced 28 separate hit singles for The Ronettes under his Philles Records label and the act toured the world,
joining the Beatles at the band's personal request for their final U.S. tour in 1966. The Ronettes also played at Army bases for American soldiers stationed abroad, famously sending soldiers into a frenzy over their provocative outfits and sexy performances. As Ronnie Spector later recalled: "For three years, 1963 to 1966, we had the best times getting ready to go on stage… our dresses slit up the side… our beehives sprayed with Aquanet… the excitement from the crowd when we would walk out on stage. I always said we weren't better, just different."
However, by the end of 1966, Phil Spector's career had begun to decline after a disappointing string of records failed to sell big. The Ronettes dissolved when their producer fell into early retirement.
This was not the end for Ronnie Spector, however, whose troubles were only just beginning. Ronnie and Phil had fallen in love while working together; the two finally got married on April 14, 1968, and she immediately moved into his Los Angeles mansion. But Phil was heading in a dark direction as his career flat lined. As he sank deeper into an ever-worsening depression, symptoms of severe bipolar disorder began to flare. (In 2009, Phil was convicted of the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson.)
Though Ronnie remains reluctant to this day to talk about the terrifying six-year marriage that sometimes resembled a horror film or psychological thriller, she wrote about it in a tell-all memoir called Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette. The memoir described in painful detail the extent of Phil Spector's tyrannical control over her life. He forbade her to speak to The Rolling Stones or Beatles for fear that she would cheat on him, kept a glass coffin in the basement, and threatened to kill her if she ever left him. She was locked inside the mansion at all times, her shoes taken away so she couldn't go outside. Phil made her drive with a life-size blow-up doll of him on the rare occasions she was permitted outdoors.
During her virtual imprisonment, the couple adopted a mixed-race child named Donte, who was also subject to his father's vicious behavior. The boy later said that he was often kept locked in his bedroom with a chamber pot for a toilet in a corner of the room. Phil Spector also adopted twin boys without consulting his wife.
Ronnie Spector became increasingly depressed and turned to drugs for respite, leading to more than one close brush with death and suicide. Despite numerous attempts to get sober, she found herself in the hospital over and over again, even trying to overdose just so she could rest in the hospital away from her husband's madness.
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