Plastic fantastic: the life of Poly Styrene

Poly Styrene, the female punk musician whose band X-Ray Spex changed the direction of popular culture, has died from cancer at the age of 53.

The singer, whose real name was Marianne Elliot Said, shot to fame in the late 1970s with her shocking look and hits including "Germ Free Adolescents" and "Oh Bondage Up Yours!". X-Ray Spex's music caught the wave of the moment, softening punk's anarchic tone with tracks about subjects including environmental destruction and consumerism.

Critics said her "wild and satirical confidence" led the way for solo female artists to "assert their identity without having to resort to sex appeal".

Poly Styrene had just released her third solo album while suffering breast cancer and cancer of the spine. The statement announcing her death said: "We can confirm that the beautiful Poly Styrene, who has been a true fighter, won her battle on Monday evening to go to higher places."

Musicians paid their respects. Boy George said: "I was a fan of Poly before I got to know her. Oh bless you Poly you will be missed." Former Spandau Ballet star Martin Kemp said she had given him and his band "ambition". John Robb, the frontman of punk band Goldblade, added: "Most punk women before her were just dolly-birds. Poly changed that."

She formed X-Ray Spex in 1976 after watching the Sex Pistols perform on Hastings Pier on her 18th birthday. In one of her last interviews, she said: "You remember that old song 'Que Sera Sera, Whatever will be, will be, the future's not ours to see'? I've always felt that. It's been a rollercoaster ride, but I wouldn't change a thing."