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November 28, 2018 08:50 AM
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More than half a century after rising to fame, Ronnie Spector is hitting her stride in both her professional and personal life.

The 75-year-old rock and roll legend is currently headlining a holiday tour across the U.S. through December, and in 2019 she’ll hit the road with the Ronettes, the iconic girl group that first launched her to stardom in the ’60s. Though she’s currently riding the success of their comeback after releasing their latest single, “Love Power,” last year, life hasn’t always been this sunny.

Spector (born Veronica Bennett) survived an abusive marriage to hitmaker Phil Spector, whom she met when he took her band the Ronettes (Ronnie, sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley) under his wing at the beginning of their career. Phil catapulted the group to the upper echelon of pop music in 1963 with the release of “By My Baby” and made Spector a star.

But it came with a price. After Spector married Phil in 1968, the Ronettes disbanded and Phil kept Spector a virtual prisoner in their Beverly Hills mansion, which he surrounded with barbed wire and guard dogs.

The producer’s destructive behavior is the stuff of rock mythology, but one of the most bizarre things Phil did was adopt a set of twins — Gary and Louis, now 52 — without telling his pop star wife.

RELATED: ‘My Past Made Me Strong’: Ronnie Spector’s Journey from ’60s Pop Icon to Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor

Ronnie Spector and Phil Spector.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

“We were in the car and all of a sudden we pull up to the mansion and there’s a fountain and there are these twins running around — these blond-haired, blue-eyed twins,” she tells PEOPLE. “I’m saying, ‘What’s this?’ He said, ‘Merry Christmas!'”

“He never said, ‘Ronnie, what do you think we should do? Should we adopt twins?’ Nothing! Everything was a surprise, and no woman wants live children as a surprise,” she continues. “That’s when my mother came along.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was able to escape from the mansion, and from Phil’s control, in 1972 with the help of her mom, Beatrice.

“She said, ‘I’m your mother and I’m telling you, we gotta get out of here. Or you, my little girl, are going to be gone.'”

She ultimately moved back to her hometown of New York to start over. As a result of their 1974 divorce, Phil got custody of the kids  — but she kept her stage name.

RELATED: FIRST LISTEN: Rock Queen Ronnie Spector Releases ‘Love Power,’ Her First Song in Decades with the Ronettes

Despite the time she spent away from music during her first marriage, Spector was able to reboot her career in the ’70s and sang on the 1986 Eddie Money hit “Take Me Home Tonight.”

Her professional success extended to her personal life that year when she wed producer Jonathan Greenfield, who had attended one of her comeback concerts as a smitten teen. Today they share two sons — Austin, 36, and Jason, 35.

For more on Ronnie Spector’s amazing life, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

RELATED: Ronnie Spector’s Victory Lap: The Original Rock Queen Talks New Music and Reviving the Ronettes

Now she’s free to sing her song and tell her story to packed houses each night. “I would tell any woman, if you are in a bad relationship, you have to find someone — like my mother. If it’s not your mother, your best friend. One person has to help you,” she says.

“It was so dark back in those days. Now I feel free now to be able to tell other women. Maybe not every woman will listen to me, but some will and I [hope] I can get one or two to save their [own] lives or save them from getting abused.”

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