Entertainment Celebrity Fans mourn Australian singer and feminist icon Helen Reddy
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Fans mourn Australian singer and feminist icon Helen Reddy

Helen Reddy, Australian singer, actor and activist, died aged 78. Photo: Getty
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Fans around the world are mourning Australian trailblazer and singer Helen Reddy after her death in Los Angeles.

Reddy’s famous friends and devoted fans flooded social media with tributes to her many achievements on and off the stage after her death at the age of 78 on Wednesday (Australian time).

Reddy’s death was confirmed by her children, Traci and Jordan, in a post of her official fan page on Facebook.

Statement from Traci and JordanIt is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved mother, Helen…

Posted by Helen Reddy Official Fan Page on Tuesday, 29 September 2020

They described her as a “wonderful mother, grandmother and a truly formidable woman”.

“Our hearts are broken,” they wrote.

“But take comfort in the knowledge that her voice will live forever”.

American actress Jamie Lee Curtis was among the first to react, tweeting: “Honor of my life. Introducing Helen at the Women’s March, January 2017! THANK YOU Helen.”

A singer, actor and activist born into a showbiz family in Melbourne in 1941, Reddy was best known for her song I Am Woman, which became the unofficial anthem of the feminist movement.

At 20, Reddy married an older musician and family friend Kenneth Weate. The marriage didn’t last long, breaking up soon after the birth of daughter Traci.

She once famously said she loved showbiz because it was “the only business that allowed you to earn the same salary as a man and to keep your name”.

After winning a trip to New York in Bandstand’s Starflite talent quest in 1965, Reddy stuck around in the US – even though she had no green card.

When she was down to her last $12, Australian hypnotist Martin St James held a party, charging $5 admission to raise money for Helen’s rent.

That’s where she met Jeff Wald, and according to Reddy, “it was love at first sight”.

She married him three days later. This fixed her visa problems and he became her manager.

Reddy’s career was launched by the B-side

Wald helped Reddy secure a deal with Capitol Records to record a single. The A side was I Believe in Music, but the B side – I Don’t Know How To Love Him, from the new Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar – became a hit.

Reddy became a feminist in the late 1960s and told The Australian Women’s Weekly in the 1970s that she and Wald were “a perfect example of the unisex movement”. Both wore men’s shirts and went to the same hairdresser.

“Women, today, won’t allow themselves to be solely sexual objects, which is what they have been for a very long time,” she said.

Soon afterwards, Reddy wrote the lyrics for I Am Woman, seeking to express the confidence feminism had given her.

Released in May 1972, the song was initially a bit of a flop. But it featured in the film Stand Up And Be Counted and Reddy kept performing it on US daytime TV shows.

Soon, women were asking radio stations to play it.

‘God – she makes everything possible’

Reddy gave birth to a son, Jordan, in December 1972 – the same month I Am Woman topped the US charts.

She went on to perform her signature song at the White House for then US president Gerald Ford.

She won the award for pop female vocalist at the 1973 Grammys – the first Australian to get a Grammy nod – and in her acceptance speech she thanked “God – because She makes everything possible.”

That same year, Reddy she hosted eight episodes of The Helen Reddy Show, where American singing group The Pointer Sisters had their first television appearance. The group tweeted their condolences on Wednesday, along with a poster from the show.

Reddy went on to an acting career that included roles in Pete’s Dragon, and mentoring up-and-coming Australian artist Olivia Newton-John.

“It was wonderful to me that through music I’d changed things,” she told Jeff Apter in his 2013 book Up From Down Under.

Wald and Reddy divorced in January 1983. She married Milton Ruth, a drummer in her band, in June of the same year. They divorced in 1995.

Reddy retired in 2002, saying 55 years of singing was “long enough”.

Returning to Australia, she studied hypnotherapy. In her 2006 memoir, The Woman I Am, she said her interest could be traced to “an out-of-body experience” she had at 11.

“I don’t sing any more but I still use my voice to heal and hopefully inspire,” she said in a US radio interview.

Reddy continued to speak on women’s issues and received a medal from the Veteran Feminists of America in 2006.

Her life story was turned into a feature film, I Am Woman, which is streaming in Australia.

Reddy was diagnosed with dementia in 2015, and died on September 29. She is survived by her daughter Traci and son Jordan, and her granddaughter Lily.

Reddy’s friend Jim, who ran her official Facebook fan page, posted a tribute to Helen’s love for her family.

“Traci, Jordan, and Lily lit up her face when they walked into the room,” he wrote.

“I am so very thankful to Traci and Jordan for sharing their mother with me. And to Helen for adding more to my life than I can ever explain or describe.”

-with AAP