Long before Adele, Lady Ga Ga, Duffy, Byonce’, Amy Winehouse there was Dusty Springfield. Born as Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien in 1939, the “dumpy red-headed” daughter of Irish immigrants in West Hampstead,England. Springfield’s career extended from the late 1950s to the mid 90’s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. With her distinctive sensual mezzo-soprano sound, she was the definitive female. “blued eyed soul” singer. She became the template of those female singers that occurred later in pop music. At her peak she was the most successful British female performer, with six top 20 singles on the US Billboard’s Top 100 and sixteen on the UK Charts.. from 1963 to 1989.
Dusty Springfield and Lady Ga Ga
International polls had proclaimed Springfield among the best female rock artists of all time. Her image, supported by a peroxide blonde bouffant hairstyle, gaudy long gowns and heavy make-up; as well as her flamboyant performances had made her an icon of the “Swingin’ Sixties” .
Dusty Springfield Interviewing The Beatles
Even as late as 1973 she was telling her (female) partner at the time, “If I walk into that church the ceiling is going to fall on me. I’m going to be dead because I’m such a sinner.” Mary/Dusty was educated at a convent school. Her father was overweight, bespectacled and a balding tax adviser who refused to sit for the accountancy exams because he really wanted to be a concert pianist. Meantime, Dusty’s mother was continuously drunk and sat all day in the cinemas with dreams of becoming a Hollywood starlet. It was a domestic atmosphere made of terrible tension and fuming dysfunction. Occasionally enlivened with food fights and bi-polar episodes at the dinner table. Dusty’s father called her “stupid and ugly” so she scalded herself with self-harm proving she was alive and not thoroughly numb. The feelings of inadequacy followed her throughout her life. She later admitted that her solace was to listen to (and emulate) Carmen Miranda, Doris Day and Billie Holiday; enabling personal pain and a tortured personal history into art. She would gross more money than The Beatles when she toured. By 1966 she had achieved more hit records than any other artist.
She had a nose job at the London Clinic so she could look like American sweetheart, Doris Day. She was constantly striving for perfection and became well known for her primadonna escapades . It could take over three hours to apply her make-up and decide on what costumes to wear. Dusty often stretched the music business status quo of the Sixties to their limits while stretching the limits of her sanity by her public misbehavior. Self-medicated with barbiturates and vodka didn’t help continuing her downward spiraling career. Dusty’s addictions gave her the courage to have ‘sexual experiences’ with women. Interviewers referred to her as a ‘bachelor girl’. Her outlandish pranks were commonly exploited by the British tabloids. She festooned a neighbor’s house with toilet paper, flung food in restaurants and threw all her furniture into the swimming pool. She had an infamous brawl with jazz drummer, Buddy Rich and knocked off his toupee. He exclamied, “You fucking broad, who do you think you fucking are, bitch?” Dusty ended up in a secure ward at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in New York City, suffering from a ‘catatonic nervous breakdown’. The producers of an upcoming James Bond movie, “The Spy Who Loved Me” asked her to sing the theme song.. “Nobody Does It Better; unfortunately she couldn’t ‘get it together’ and decided to hire Carly Simon instead.
By 1985 Dusty was reduced to earning $500 a night miming to her old hits in West Hollywood gay bars. ‘Battered and bruised’ when her front teeth were knocked out in a lesbian skirmish; she was admitted to a hospital yet again needing oral surgery. She would scream out all the time during her bi-polar episodes and with a baseball bat broke the windows of cars parked on her street. Female tennis icon, Billie Jean King became one of her closest friends and it was reported that she had constantly come to Dusty’s aid interceding and calm things down. Life only took on more struggles beset by drug issues and other personal problems; Springfield failed to capture the run of stardom she’d once enjoyed. She did continue to record, and there were some isolated moments of success. In 1987 a whole new generation of music fans got to know her when she teamed up with the Pet Shop Boys for the single “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”
Dusty’s Death Certificate
In 1998 Springfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She passed away the following year from cancer, on March 2, 1999.