Love's current home is a modest two-floor Dutch colonial in a quiet suburban enclave about an hour north of Manhattan. It was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Debris still litters part of the backyard, and the cracked exterior frame on one of her windows needs to be replaced. But her flower garden will be blooming soon, and it will be warm enough for Love to sit on her back deck.
Love has lived in this house about 20 years. She plays 50 to 100 shows a year, just enough to keep her busy without overtaxing her voice. Several times a week, she rises at 4:00 in the morning to take a kickboxing class with her stepdaughter. Thanks in part to SoundExchange, a company that has helped veteran acts get paid for their old recordings, she's finally receiving royalties for her work as a singer. The industry came around in another important way two years ago, when Love was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Midler inducted her, and Springsteen joined her onstage.) Friends have noticed a change in Love's confidence as a result. "As far as her personality, it's still 1960 – try to stop her from laughing while the track is going," says Adler. "But there's a difference. She knows who she is now."
Last summer, before a show at a New Jersey club, Love thought she had an upset stomach – which turned out to be a heart attack. After an operation, she was back to work a month later, but not without making a few sacrifices. "Who can go to the movies without having popcorn?" she says. "So what I do, I get the small popcorn and I tell her just to make it half a bag."
"She always looks forward and never wallows in it," says Wright. "That is her nature. She never has pity parties. She is like that girl in Gone With the Wind: 'I'll think about that tomorrow.'"
Every so often, traces of the resentment that must have haunted Love for so long emerge. She was hesitant to take part in the movie when Friesen (who died from leukemia in December) first approached her: "It was like, 'Oh, no, not another one.' They want to use your name and nothing really comes of it." But Adler and Richard Donner (who directed Love when she played Danny Glover's wife in all four Lethal Weapon movies) eased her concerns, and Love agreed to participate.
And then there's the Spector matter, which still looms over much of her life. One of the prized possessions in her home, along with a photo of Love singing at the Clinton White House, is her gold-record plaque for Spector's Back to Mono box set. Love actually brought the plaque to court in 1993, when she sued Spector for unpaid royalties. "If I didn't sing on those records, why do I have one of these?" she said. To her surprise, Love won, receiving $250,000. "You know, retribution is a wonderful thing," she says quietly, "if you let it take care of itself and let somebody else do it." (And, no, she's not surprised Spector was convicted of murder. "We used to tell Phil all the time, 'One of these days, you're going to hurt somebody.'")
Just now, Love has heard she'll get to realize another dream. In 1986, after David Letterman had seen her in Leader of the Pack, she was asked to sing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on his show. At the time, he had forgotten her name. "But he remembered the song and he remembered me, and that's what's important." She has sung it on his show almost every year since then – but was never asked to sit for an interview until now. "I just found out today that it's in stone," she says. "I will be talking and singing. It's very exciting.
"My career is always, you know, 'Boy, what's happening next?'" says Love. "Sometimes it took a little time to move forward, but it moved." And then she laughs again.
This story is from the June 20th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
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