British pop star Dusty Springfield died at her home outside London Tuesday, two weeks before she was to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was 59 and had fought a long battle with breast cancer.
Springfield was one of the most influential and best-loved British pop singers to emerge around the time of the British invasion. Her hits included "I Only Want to Be With You," "Wishin' and Hopin' " (RealAudio excerpt) and a 1987 collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys, "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" Her 1969 album Dusty in Memphis -- which was reissued on CD two weeks ago with 11 extra tracks -- is considered a soul-pop classic.
Among her many champions in the rock world were pop songwriters Elvis Costello, who covered her U.K. hit "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself," and Sting; both artists submitted songs for her 1982 album White Heat. Elton John will induct Springfield into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame March 15, according to Springfield's manager, Vicki Wickham.
"Dusty Springfield's contributions to music are innumerable. She embodied the British pop chanteuse, mastered American soul music and delivered a stunning run of classic hit singles," read a statement from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. "Dusty's subtle yet forceful vocals and impeccable delivery were uniquely British and universally appealing. Her Dusty in Memphis album stands as one of the best recordings of the rock era.
The statement issued by the Hall of Fame continues: "Though [we mourn] her passing, we take solace that she knew of her induction before her death."
Springfield faced her illness "with great spirit and determination," said Wickham, who was a longtime friend. "There were times when she was very sick, [but she had] a zest for life, a [desire] to live. Her attitude was, 'If I don't feel well today, I'll feel better tomorrow.' "
Wickham described Springfield as "a fun person . . . extremely bright and intelligent with a sick, great sense of humor."
Springfield, who will also be remembered for her huge bouffant hairdos, was born Mary O'Brien in London in 1939. She had her first hits in the early '60s as one-third of the British folk-pop trio the Springfields, which also included her brother Tom (born Dion). Their much-covered "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" reached #20 on the charts in 1962, a year and a half before the Beatles broke through in the U.S. She left the band for a solo career in 1963; Tom Springfield became a songwriter and producer for the Seekers.
Springfield's brand of husky-voiced soul-pop made an instant impression in the U.K., when she held her own in duets with soul singer Martha Reeves on the TV program "Ready, Steady, Go." Springfield's early solo hits, inspired by Motown, girl groups and American soul, included "I Only Want to Be With You," "Stay Awhile," "Losing You" and "In the Middle of Nowhere."
Critics considered Springfield's songs to have more depth and intensity than those of the girl groups with whom she often competed. But throughout her career, she remained more popular at home in the U.K. than in the United States.
She covered top material by such esteemed songwriting teams as Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Her biggest '60s hit was 1966's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," a soulful adaptation of an Italian pop song. As the decade progressed, Springfield's song selections veered toward the middle of the road.
But after signing with Atlantic Records in the U.S., Springfield reached her moment of glory. She hooked up with American soul musicians and Aretha Franklin's production team for Dusty in Memphis, an LP that featured startling takes on songs by Bacharach, Randy Newman and others and featured the major hit "Son of a Preacher Man" (RealAudio excerpt).
The legendary Philadelphia soul team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff produced A Brand New Me (1970), for which Springfield garnered continued critical praise. But after moving to the U.S. in the '70s, she recorded only sporadically and with little commercial success.
She made a major comeback when she hooked up with British dance act the Pet Shop Boys to record "What Have I Done To Deserve This?," which reached #2 in the U.S. in 1988. Her last album, A Very Fine Love (1995), was a venture into adult-contemporary pop that featured contributions from singer Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates and country singers Mary Chapin Carpenter and K.T. Oslin.
She'd struggled with her illness over the past few years. At last year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner asked the audience to pray for her recovery. In January, she was honored in the U.K. with the Order of the British Empire medal.
She was excited about her impending induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, according to Wickham.
"She almost made it," Wickham said. "She was in great company . . . it was an affirmation."
"Poor Elton," Wickham said of the man who'll induct Springfield into the Hall. "It's not easy for him. He was a great fan of hers, and a good friend."
A spokesperson for Springfield, who did not want to be named, said the singer died at her home around 10:40 p.m. local time Tuesday in Henley-on-Thames, about 30 miles from London. The spokesperson said she had been seriously ill in the months preceding her death.
"She's not performed for quite some time," he said.
"We all knew it was coming. ... There is a point at which there are no miracle cures," Wickham said.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been made.
Along with Dusty in Memphis, the album Dusty in London was reissued two weeks ago. Several other Springfield albums are scheduled for CD reissue later this month.
(Contributing editors Brian Hiatt and Christopher O'Connor contributed to this report.)