As reported by Variety, singer Helen Reddy—best known for her ‘70s female empowerment anthem “I Am Woman”—has died. The news was confirmed by a public statement released by her daughters, who referred to her as a “wonderful mother, grandmother, and a truly formidable woman,” adding that they “take comfort in the knowledge that her voice will live on forever.” Reddy was 78.
Born in Australia in 1941 to a family of performers (her parents were both actors, as are other members of her extended family), Reddy naturally got introduced to the world of show business at a young age. As a child, she toured with her parents’ vaudeville shows but decided to rebel against their insistences that she follow in their footsteps and gave up on performing as a teenager so she could have a more traditional domestic life. She briefly married an older family friend and gave birth to her first daughter, but after getting a divorce, Reddy decided to return to performing. She quickly built up a following in Australia and decided to take a big swing and try to make it in the United States as a professional singer.
Reddy played small gigs, doing what she could to get by, and eventually married an aspiring manager and talent agent named Jeff Wald. She continued to struggled to put together much of a music career, but that changed in 1972 when she released what would be her iconic song, “I Am Woman.” Born out of a desire to see feminist ideals and a positive self-image for women reflected in music, Reddy wrote the song with Australian musician Ray Burton and recorded it for Capitol Records, which eventually released it as a single. It took a while for the song to gain much traction, but it gradually got picked up by more and more radio stations as women requested for it to be played, leading it to become the first song performed by an Australian singer to hit number one on the American music charts.
In 1973, “I Am Woman” won the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, with Reddy famously thanking God “because She makes everything possible” in her acceptance speech. The success made Reddy an in-demand star in the ‘70s, leading to multiple other hits (including “Leave Me Alone,” “You And Me Against The World,” and “Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady,” as well as eight episodes of her own variety show, The Helen Reddy Show. Reddy’s career started to stall just as she divorced Jeff Wald, who had been working as her manager, with Reddy later claiming that gigs started to dry up because of his interference.
Either way, Reddy eventually retired from show business and earned a degree in clinical hypnotherapy in 2002, returning to Australia for a decade out of the public eye. Since 2015, after reportedly being diagnosed with dementia, Reddy has been at The Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Center For Behavioral Health in California. A biopic about Reddy—titled I Am Woman, of course, with Tilda Cobham-Hervy as Reddy and Evan Peters as Jeff Wald—was released in Australia this summer. It’s currently available to rent on digital platforms.