Helen Reddy was born in Melbourne, Australia, the daughter of show business parents. In 1966, she won a television talent contest and was on her way to America in search of fame and fortune. Within a few months she had met and married an assistant mail room boy, Jeff Wald, who became her manager. Twenty-seven record labels rejected her material before she was finally signed by Capitol Records in 1970.
Her first charted song, "I Don't Know How To Love Him", was one that Helen never liked, and only agreed to record it as a B-side for one of her singles. However, husband Jeff thought different, and with only a credit card and a phone, worked eighteen hours a day, calling radio stations, pleading for air play. His efforts paid off, and "I Don't Know How To Love Him" became a US Top 20 hit when it reached #13 in the Spring of 1971. In 1972, Helen recorded the song called "I Am Woman", a tune that would not only change her life, but become an anthem for the woman's movement around the world. The first recording of the song appeared on her debut album, "I Don't Know How to Love Him", and gained exposure when it was heard during the closing credits for the short-lived, 1972 film Stand Up and Be Counted. Helen herself would later explain: "I couldn't find any songs that said what I thought being woman was about. I thought about all these strong women in my family who had gotten through the Depression and world wars and drunken, abusive husbands. But there was nothing in music that reflected that. I remember lying in bed one night and the words, 'I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman', kept going over and over in my head. That part I consider to be divinely inspired. I had been chosen to get a message across." The next day she wrote out the lyrics and handed them to Australian guitarist Ray Burton to put it to music. After Capitol Records issued the song as a single, it took a three month period where it entered, exited, then re-entered the Billboard Hot 100, finally reaching #1 on December 9th, 1972. At the Grammy Awards held on March 15th, 1973, Helen became the first Australian-born artist to win a Grammy when she took home a statue for Best Pop Vocal Performance - Female.
Over the next five years, Reddy had more than a dozen U.S. Top 40 hits, including "Peaceful" (#12 in 1993", "Delta Dawn" (#1 in 1973), "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" (#3 in 1973), "Keep On Singing" (#15 in 1974), "You And Me Against The Barn" (#9 in 1974), "Angie Baby" (#1 in 1974), "Emotion" (#22 in 1975), "Bluebird" (#35 in 1975), "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" (#8 in 1975), "Somewhere In The Night" (#19 in 1975), "I Can't Hear You No More" (#29 in 1976), and "You're My World" (#18 in 1977). At the height of her fame, Helen Reddy was a headline act, appearing with a full compliment of backing singers and dancers. Among her opening acts were Joan Rivers, David Letterman, Bill Cosby and Barry Manilow. In 1973 she hosted the Summer replacement program, The Helen Reddy Show, and later that year became the semi-regular host of the NBC late night show The Midnight Special, a position she retained until 1975.
By 1978 however, her style of music took a sharp decline in popularity. The only record she placed on the Billboard Pop chart that year was "Ready Or Not", which stalled at #89. She didn't fare any better in 1979 when a song called "Make Love To Me" quit climbing at #90 that Spring. After ten years with Capitol, Helen moved to MCA who released just one album, "Imagination", in 1983. It would prove to be Reddy's swan song, as only the single "I Can't Say Goodbye To You" made the Hot 100 at #88. That same year, after several months of personal upheaval, she and Jeff Wald divorced. In June, 1983 she married Milton Ruth, a drummer in her band. They would split in 1995.
In the mid-1980s Helen returned to her theatrical roots with starring roles in productions of Anything Goes, Call Me Madam, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. A huge fan herself of English playwright and composer Willy Russell, Helen has become the foremost interpreter of his work, appearing both on Broadway and in the West End of London in the hit musical Blood Brothers and four productions of Russell's one-woman play Shirley Valentine. Although Helen had been winning rave reviews for her theatrical work, she still continued to appear in concert and with symphony orchestras. Her 1998 album, "Center Stage", was a perfect blend of Helen's distinctive sound with the Broadway songs she made her own.
In the new millennium, Helen released "The Essential Helen Reddy Collection: I Am Woman", her first and only definitive retrospective, encompassing twenty-three of her biggest hits, cherished album tracks and various movie themes. With detailed liner notes, rare photos and the participation of Helen herself, this is the ultimate souvenir of one of the world's most legendary and influential entertainers. Active in community affairs, Helen served for three years as Commissioner of Parks and Recreation for the State of California. Of the many honors she has received, Helen has said that she is most proud of the tulip named for her in Holland.
Helen retired from live performing in 2002 and went on to practice as a clinical hypnotherapist and motivational speaker. She moved from her longtime residence in Santa Monica, California back to her native Australia. Reddy published her autobiography, The Woman I Am, and appeared on the Today show in 2006. Sadly, she suffered from Addison's disease, a failure of the adrenal glands which requires constant treatment, but continued to be active in women's issues. Later in the decade she decided to return to show business and had a feature role in the crime film, The Perfect Host, starring David Hyde-Pierce, which hit theaters on July 1st, 2011. A year later Helen returned to the musical stage at Croce's Jazz Bar in San Diego and for a benefit concert for the arts at St. Genevieve High School in Panorama City. In a March 2013 interview with The Chicago Tribune, Reddy revealed that she had taken up residence in Los Angeles that January. She was also booked to perform in Australia at the Sydney Opera House in 2014. In July 2015, reports began to surface that Reddy was being treated for symptoms of dementia. Her family refuted these claims by issuing a statement on her Facebook page that, while she was now retired from concerts and had become a resident of the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, California, she was not suffering from dementia. Reddy appeared in downtown Los Angeles at the 2017 Women's March on January 21st. She was introduced by actress Jamie Lee Curtis and sang an a cappella version of "I Am Woman".
For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Helen Reddy