Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Helen Maxine Reddy (1941–2020)

by John Shand

from Sydney Morning Herald

Helen Reddy, C.Moore Hardy Collection, 2001

Helen Reddy, C.Moore Hardy Collection, 2001

City of Sydney Archives, 704291

To some it was an anthem, to some a rallying cry and to others just a pop song, but in 1972 Helen Reddy's I Am Woman swept around the world on the global tide of feminism. Although Reddy, who died on Wednesday, had already had international success with her cover of I Don't Know How to Love Him (from Jesus Christ Superstar), I Am Woman was the life-changing hit that might never have happened.

It was not until the song was used in the opening credits of the movie Stand Up and Be Counted (starring Jacqueline Bisset) that Capitol Records released it as a single in case the film took off. It didn't, and I Am Woman itself was a sleeper, entering the Billboard charts at a lowly 99, disappearing altogether for two months, and then unexpectedly re-entering the charts and spending a full three months inching to the top spot.

Unable to find a song that expressed her pride in being female, Reddy had penned the lyrics, and asked Ray Burton (guitarist with Australian band the Executives, then based in Los Angeles) to write the music. The upshot was the first US No.1 hit for an Australian and the first Australian song to win a Grammy Award. Reddy became the world's biggest-selling female singer two years running, going on to sell tens of millions of albums worldwide.

Of course her clean-cut image and mainstream music also attracted gentle mockery. In the words of Alice Cooper she was "the queen of housewife rock", while Frank Zappa defined the female character in his 1976 song Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me? with, "She was an office girl ('My name is Betty') / Her favourite group was Helen Reddy."

Reddy, who has died at the age of 78, was always destined for show business. Her father, Max Reddy, and her mother, Stella Lamond, were variety-show performers, and her half-sister Toni Lamond and the latter's son, Tony Sheldon, have been musical theatre mainstays.

Born Helen Maxine Almond Reddy in Melbourne on October 25, 1941, she made her singing debut with her parents' show in Perth in 1946, billed as Baby Helen Reddy. In Melbourne she attended Tintern Church of England Girls Grammar School and dreamed of being a film star. Her mother was her first singing teacher (instilling the importance of the lyric), her sister her first dance teacher and at nine she began learning piano. When she moved to Stratherne Presbyterian Girls School she studied drama, and by the age of 12 was adding voices to her father's radio comedies.

At 15 she left school and rejoined her parents on the road as one of the Folies Lovelies, which involved singing, dancing, comedy sketches and even assisting a juggler. By the late 1950s she had discovered vocalists such as Peggy Lee, Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra and was taking formal singing lessons.

In 1959 she opened for Sammy Davis jnr at the Melbourne Stadium, and the next year she moved to Sydney, where she worked her way up from beer-barns to nightclubs, only to return to Melbourne after marrying musician Kenneth Weate.

The short-lived marriage gave Reddy her first child, Traci (born in January, 1963), and mother and daughter moved back to Sydney in 1964. A year later she entered a TV talent contest called the Bandstand Starflight International, the first prize being a trip to New York and the chance to record for Mercury Records. She won.

However, when she arrived in New York in 1966, it was to find that Mercury Records would not sign her. Without a green card she headed for Canada and a nightclub gig in Winnipeg. Back in New York she was befriended by expat Australian journalist Lillian Roxon and survived there a little longer, courtesy of a rent party at which she met her second husband, Jeff Wald. To finance the apartment that she, Wald and Traci would initially share she cashed in her return airfares to Australia. The die was cast.

Reddy married Wald and they moved to Chicago and then Los Angeles. With her career in the doldrums she briefly studied psychology and parapsychology at UCLA, before comedian Flip Wilson offered her a spot on The Tonight Show while he was filling in for Johnny Carson.

Her appearance led to a contract to record a single for Capitol Records and I Don't Know How To Love Him resulted. This might never have charted because Reddy, not overly keen on the song, originally intended it as the throwaway B-side to I Believe in Music. A last-minute swap led to a hit and Reddy's first album.

International touring and further hits followed: Crazy Love, I Am Woman, Delta Dawn, Angie Baby Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) and more. If her voice was not especially distinctive it was certainly easy on the ear and came with an array of influences. Her second child, Jordan, was born in December, 1972, and in May, 1973, when collecting her best female vocalist Grammy Award, she famously finished her acceptance speech by thanking "God because She makes everything possible".

In the same year she hosted eight episodes of the prime-time Helen Reddy Show on NBC TV. At the height of this success she lost her mother, dear friend Roxon and father all within 10 weeks of each other. She found respite in becoming a qualified genealogist.

In 1974 she was a guest on The Tonight Show at a time when Sinatra was receiving harsh treatment from the press in Australia. Reddy's defence of him was seen by Sinatra's daughter, Tina, who told Sinatra. The next day she received a dozen yellow roses from him. Later that year, she would share a stage with Sinatra and Gene Kelly. That was also the year she became an American citizen, to howls from the Australian Murdoch press — 11 years before Murdoch took the same step.

Her wealth was now such that when she played a Las Vegas season she commuted by private jet from LA each night so as to maximise time with her children. Her success led to film roles in Airport '75 and Pete's Dragon, but no screen career of substance. She was an enthusiastic fundraiser for governor Jerry Brown during the 1976 presidential campaign, and served for three years as a commissioner of parks and recreation in California.

By the end of the 1970s her star was in decline. A move from Capitol to MCA failed to revive it, and meanwhile her marriage to Wald (and their business partnership) collapsed, ending in an ugly custody battle and what People magazine called "Hollywood's dirtiest divorce".

Following it all, she found herself heavily in debt and with her career in tatters. Feeling vulnerable, she entered a marriage with Milton Ruth that ended in divorce in 1995.

As Reddy's recording career waned, she returned to theatre, appearing in a series of musicals between 1985 and 1997, as well as the play Shirley Valentine. Meanwhile, she continued to tour with a downsized band, and was the first Western female singer to perform in China.

Early in the new century she spent extensive time on Norfolk Island in an effort to address long-term health issues. After the dizzy success she had experienced, she found herself tired of show business. She studied hypnotherapy and, returning to live in Sydney, became patron of the Australian Society of Clinical Hypnotherapists.

In 2015, Reddy was diagnosed with dementia and had been cared for by family and friends at the Samuel Goldwyn Jnr Centre for Behavioural Health.

After a 10-year hiatus (during which time she published her memoir The Woman I Am) she made a brief comeback to performing in 2012, and in January 2017 sang I Am Woman at an LA anti-Trump rally.

Her story was turned into the 2020 film I Am Woman by director Unjoo Moon and writer Emma Jensen. Tilda Cobham Hervey played Reddy with Chelsea Cullen providing the singing voice.

She is survived by her daughter Traci, son Jordan and sister Toni Lamond.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Helen Maxine Reddy

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Shand, 'Reddy, Helen Maxine (1941–2020)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Helen Reddy, C.Moore Hardy Collection, 2001

Helen Reddy, C.Moore Hardy Collection, 2001

City of Sydney Archives, 704291

More images


Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Weate, Helen Maxine
  • Wald, Helen Maxine
  • Ruth, Helen Maxine

25 October, 1941
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


29 September, 2020 (aged 78)
Los Angeles, California, United States of America

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations