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Dusty Springfield Dead at 59

Diva Legend Succumbs to Breast Cancer

March 4, 1999 12:00 AM ET

Eleven days shy of her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame -- and two months after being made an Officer of the Order of British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II -- pop singer Dusty Springfield succumbed to breast cancer last night (March 2) at her home in Henley-on-Thames. She was fifty-nine.

Springfield, who is best known for her landmark 1969 album Dusty in Memphis, was diagnosed with the disease in 1994, shortly before the release of her last album, A Very Fine Love. "She handled it honestly with great spirit and humor," says Vicki Wickham, Springfield's manager since her mid-Eighties collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys and a friend since the Sixties. "I'm not just saying that -- she really did. It was extraordinary. [She] only was bedridden in the last couple of days, and really was just amazing. I think anybody that can keep their sense of humor through all of this is just okay in my book."

Wickham says Springfield had been "far too sick" to have traveled to New York for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony Monday, March 15, at the Waldorf Astoria, where Elton John is scheduled to do the induction honors (Springfield sang back-up on his 1971 Tumbleweed Connection).

Springfield, born Mary O'Brien on April 16, 1939, in London, had her first taste of international chart success in the early Sixties when she and her brother Tom formed a folk trio (with Tim Fields) called theSpringfields. Solo hits came swiftly after the breakup of the trio, kicking off with 1963's "I Only Want to Be With You." Other hits throughout the decade -- many showcasing her husky take on the Motown-sound -- included "Wishin' and Hopin,'" "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" and "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," a 1966 No. 1 hit in the U.K. (and No. 4 in the States). Dusty in Memphis spawned the international Top Ten smash "Son of a Preacher Man." (Quentin Tarantino brought the singer back into fame's spotlight with his use of the song in 1994's Pulp Fiction).

Springfield spent most of the Seventies out of the business, though she resurfaced in 1978 with a pair of ill-to-moderately received comeback albums. In 1987 however, Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys asked her to sing on "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" a No. 2 hit in both the U.S. and the U.K.
"It was a dream come true for us when Dusty Springfield agreed to sing with us," said Tennant and Chris Lowe in a press statement released Wednesday (March 3) by Parlophone. "Quite honestly, we were in awe of her. Dusty was a tender, exhilarating and soulful singer, incredibly intelligent at phrasing a song, painstakingly building it up to a thrilling climax. She was also a warm and funny person."

In 1990, Springfield had a Top Twenty album in the U.K. with Reputation. Her last studio album would be 1994'sA Very Fine Love, though Polygram released a three-disc retrospective, Anthology, in late 1997 and Rhino issued the archival live set Dusty in London just last month.

Springfield, who never married and leaves behind no children, was included on Queen Elizabeth II's biannual honors list on Dec. 31, 1998, and was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in January. Sixties' blues-rock pioneer Al Kooper, who never worked with the singer but proclaims himself "the world's biggest Dusty Springfield fan," summarized her legacy by saying, "In many ways Dusty Springfield was equal to Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra in the interpretation of a ballad. There is no one in sight to challenge her at this time."

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