Dusty, soul of British pop, dies
Thursday 04 March 1999
The 59-year-old singer, whose trademark blonde beehive and "panda" eye make-up inspired a generation of modettes, was diagnosed with cancer after finding a lump in her breast in 1994. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy failed to cure the cancer and she moved to her present home late last year to find peace and solitude before she died.
Springfield, whose real name was Mary O'Brien, was born in north London in 1939. She was awarded the OBE in the New Year's honours list and received it in a private ceremony at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London four weeks ago. Tributes to the singer were led by the Queen who was said by Buckingham Palace to be "saddened" by the singer's death so shortly after she received her OBE.
Sir Elton John, who was given the news of her death while touring America said: "I thought that Dusty was the best white British female singer to come along at the time. To me, she was as good a singer as Aretha Franklin."
Contemporaries from the 1960s also joined the tributes: "She was an incredible artist," Cilla Black said from her home yesterday. "I'm very sad and deeply shocked."
A spokeswoman for Lulu, who was a friend of Dusty Springfield for 30 years said: "I have just spoken to Lulu, and she just said that she is obviously very sad, but at the same time relieved that Dusty is no longer suffering."
Springfield got her start in pop with an all-girl group called the Lana Sisters before forming The Springfields, a folk group, with her brother. They had hits in the UK and the United States before she began her solo career in 1963. Her first hit was in 1964, with "I Only Want to be With You", a song, which like many of her hits was influenced by her passion for the Motown label's soul music.
She was an intensely private person and her trademark make-up and wig were part of a plan to preserve her anonymity and privacy. After her successes in the Sixties, which included the songs "Son of a Preacher Man", "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" and "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", she went through a period of decline.
She moved to the US in the early Seventies and after her album Cameo did not record a hit for many years.
After a series of comebacks and a battle with drugs and alcohol, she hit the charts in the Eighties with the Pet Shop Boys and the single "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" Her songs started to feature on film soundtracks and she became a figure of tragic adoration for the gay community.
The Pet Shop Boys said yesterday: "Dusty was the pop icon of her generation and brought pleasure to millions of music lovers around the world. She will be sadly missed."
Her appearances on the influential pop programme Ready Steady Go have secured her place in the culture of the early Sixties. For a generation, the Profumo scandal and bank holiday clashes between mods and rockers are all replayed in their memories to the background of a Dusty Springfield song.
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