Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes Dead of Cancer at 78: 'Lived Her Life with a Twinkle in Her Eye'

Ronnie Spector sang on classics such as "Be My Baby" and "Walking in the Rain"

Ronnie Spector
Ronnie Spector in 2018. Photo: Jordi Vidal/Redferns

Ronnie Spector, the lead singer of the legendary girl group the Ronettes, has died following a short battle with cancer. She was 78.

"Our beloved earth angel, Ronnie, peacefully left this world today after a brief battle with cancer," her family says in a statement shared with PEOPLE. "She was with family and in the arms of her husband, Jonathan."

"Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humor and a smile on her face. She was filled with love and gratitude," the statement continues. "Her joyful sound, playful nature and magical presence will live on in all who knew, heard or saw her. "

Her family asked that in lieu of flowers, and per Spector's request, donations be made to local women's shelters or to the American Indian College Fund. They also noted that a celebration of her life will and music will be announced in the future.

A video shared to Spector's Instagram on Wednesday featured a black-and-white photo of the singer set to her version of The Beatles' "I'll Follow the Sun," which she released in 2016.

Spector was born Veronica Bennett in Harlem, New York, and formed the Ronettes with her sister Estelle and cousin Nedra while still a teenager.

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The group frequented the Peppermint Lounge, a local New York club, and were eventually discovered there by Murray "Murray the K" Kaufman, who hired them as dancers for his Brooklyn Fox Theater rock and roll revues.

While with the group, Spector lent her vocals to classics like "Be My Baby" and "Walking in the Rain." Though the group released just one studio album, their popularity loomed large and they even joined the Beatles on tour in 1966. She and her groupmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

Ronnie Spector
The Ronettes. R. H. Vincent/Redferns/Getty

Post-Ronettes, Spector enjoyed a solo career and even briefly reformed the group with two new members. Over the years, she collaborated with stars like Eddie Money (their hit "Take Me Home Tonight" sampled "Be My Baby," and cracked the Top 5 in the charts), Southside Johnny and Joey Ramone.

Spector married producer Phil Spector in 1968 after signing to his label five years earlier, though the marriage was a difficult one. Before their divorce in 1974, the late producer kept her sequestered in their California mansion and subjected her to years of psychological torment.

"I thought, I wasn't going to sing again and that I was going to die there," she recalled to PEOPLE in 2018.

Following their split, Spector was able to move back to New York to rebuild her musical career.

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"As I said many times while he was alive, he was a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband," Ronnie said following his death in January 2021. "Unfortunately Phil was not able to live and function outside of the recording studio. Darkness set in, many lives were damaged."

She went on to marry her manager Jonathan Greenfield in 1982, and the couple shared sons Austin and Jason.

"Everything is so vivid in my mind because I didn't sing for so many years. That's all I can think about; when's my next show? Because it makes me happy!" she told PEOPLE in 2018. "What I went through then made me that great today, because I was determined that nobody would ever keep me down again. And that's what I'd tell any woman."

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