Catching Up With ...
Tuesday, May 9, 2006; 12:00 PM
"I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman."
Those words from Helen Reddy's1972 self-penned number one international hit became a popular refrain and anthem for feminism in the 1970's. But just as she became the first Australian to win a Grammy Award for Best Female Vocalist tragedy struck.
"I had given birth, had three number one hit records and my own television series, lost both parents, my aunt and my closest friend, and faced death myself," writes Reddy in "The Woman I Am," a memoir.
Reddy was online Tuedsay, May 8, at Noon ET in a special "Catching Up With" discussion to talk about her life and career, her memoir and the release of "The Definitive Collection," a retrospective of her recording career.
A transcript follows.
Harrisburg, Pa.: I look forward to reading your book. I am unfamiliar with your own health crisis. What was it, if I may ask, and what obstacles did it place in your life? I hope you are fine now and I wish you all the best of good health.
Helen Reddy: I have Addison's Disease and there is no cure but it is manageable. I take Cortisone everyday and have for about 30 years now. So it is much the same as a diabetic needing insulin: there is no cure but you can lead a relatively normal life.
It's a failure of the adrenal glands, adrenal insufficiency. And I had a kidney removed when I was 17 and they took the adrenal gland as well. The one I had left during a period of great stress in my life. In other words, I only had one left and then later on at a period of stress in my life which would've been around 1973 ... both my parents died .. I call it in the book.
I'm diagnosed for two years so my condition worsened and I was in total exhaustion.
Washington, D.C.: Did I hear you say on the Today show that you're finished with performing? If so, why? Would you please explain. You're terrific, we miss you.
Helen Reddy: I had been performing since I was five years old. I quit at the age of 60. I did it for 55 years. So isn't that long enough? There are other things that I wanted to do with my life which I'm doing such as ... I am now a clinical hypnotherapist and I'm enjoying living a much quieter life. It was enough. How many people want to do the same things more than 55 years?
I haven't exactly retired from life. I still speak, I still write. I'm just not singing anymore. I'm not in the entertainment business anymore.
Centreville, Va.: I am curious about your last name -- Reddy; it is a common last name in southern part of India. Does your father, Max, have any ancestors in India?
Helen Reddy: I have done some research on my father's side; most of my research has been done on my mother's side. His father was born in Ireland but his great grandfather served with an Irish regiment stationed in India so it is possible that I have Indian ancestry. But it has not yet been established.
Annandale, Va.: Please tell us about your work in hypnotherapy and your experience with past-life research.
Helen Reddy: I think I answered this question full in the book.
I had an out-of-body experience at the age of 11. That was the beginning of my interest and I space does not permit here but your question would be fully answered in my book. The book, The Woman I Am, is out in stores now.
North Canton, Ohio: In reading your book it is clear that you are spiritually content and have a great love for your family and friends. You have found that the greatest wealth you have are the experiences life has given you, both good and bad. Was there ever a time where you lost sight of this and what brought you back to realizing God, family and friends are priorities?
Helen Reddy: I think we've all been through dark periods in our life. I don't think there's anybody who hasn't had a period of questioning.
I don't think I ever doubted ... My family was always a priority for me. A lot of my tours were planned around the children's school schedules.
Helen Reddy: I wasn't struck my lightning.
Baltimore, Md.: You and Me Against the World. Was that your son's voice in the song?
Helen Reddy: No, my son was in utero at the time. It was my daughter's voice.
Albany, N.Y.: How do you rank on Napster? Would you mind if people shared your music? Do you HOPE people share your music?
Helen Reddy: What is Napster? They can download songs from my Web site, www.helenreddy.com. I'm not techie but if it is illegal I'm not in favor of it. Theft is theft.
Fairfax, Va.: Are you involved in feminist causes now? If so, what are you doing?
Helen Reddy: Last Monday I received a medal of honor form the Veteran Feminists of America and I still continue to speak on feminist issues and always will.
Washington, D.C.: What was it like singing with Neil Diamond (and Henry Winkler!) on the Love at the Greek album?
Helen Reddy: If you listen carefully to the track, because I was pulled out of the audience and had been filming Pete's Dragon all day, and you can hear me saying on the track under my breath to Neil, "I'm gonna kill you for this."
Charles Town, W.Va.: When you accepted your Grammy award for "I Am Woman," you thanked "God because She makes everything possible." What kind of reaction did that comment spark from organized religion?
Helen Reddy: I got a couple of crank letters from individuals but I don't recall any reaction from any organized religion.
Herndon, Va.: Hi Helen: You look great! I have read your book and saw the picture of your granddaughter--she is so cute! Is is about the same age as my son. I also saw the picture of Jordan and was wondering (seems there was something floating around about this) if his wife was killed in a car accident? I send my heartfelt symthany to you and him if this is the case. I know what it is like to lose a love one by a car accident and having almost lost my husband in Afghanistan recently. Much happiness to you and enjoyment. Shelia
Helen Reddy: The epilogue in my book talks about my daughter-in-law. She died of a pulmonary embolism.
La Grange, Mo. : I too am a retired musician though I only lasted 25 years. I can certainly relate to burnout and I never had to deal with health problems. Can't wait to read your book, best of luck in your new career.
Helen Reddy: Thank you.
Fairfax, Va.: I think President Kennedy also had Addison's Disease, although it was not publicized. I hope you manage well with it.
I just bought a CD of your greatest hits about two months ago and enjoy it. You have a distinctive singing voice. It is powerful, and enhanced by your accent (I don't always hear any difference between British and American singers). There is never any problem identifying you when your songs come up on the radio. Thanks for all the entertainment.
Helen Reddy: Thank you.
Helen Reddy: To Nashville: I always admired your work. Glad to hear that you're doing so well. All the best.
Hartford, Conn.: Hi. I'm looking forward to reading your book. What is your life like today, now that you are no longer performing?
Helen Reddy: I now live in Sydney and am very happy living a quiet, laid back life.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Helen. I saw you recently in New York at a book signing. The line stretched around the block. How does it feel to know that you have that kind of support after all these years of public life?
Helen Reddy: Well, it's certainly encouraging to someone with their first book. Thanks for coming.
Currie, Minn. : You have done many interesting and important things in your life, raised wonderful children, inspired and consoled people with your songs, entertained on stage and in the movies, as well as supported and educated the public on many causes/issues, so ... I am wondering what you would consider your "shining moment?"
Helen Reddy: Being born. (LAUGHS)
North Canton, Ohio: Are there any unreleased recordings or videos that may make it to the market soon?
Helen Reddy: You should keep an eye out on my Web site: www.helenreddy.com. Unreleased material will be posted form time to time.
Alexandria, Va.: Your book is excellent and inspiring. I especially appreciate the parts about your mother and father. You have helped so many people through your music over the years. Do you plan to keep writing?
Helen Reddy: Yes. I plan to keep writing and speaking. I don't sing anymore but I still use my voice to heal and hopefuly inspire.
Medford, Ore.: Hi Helen,
I am a musician/songwriter and you were a hero of mine with your wonderful voice and songs. First of all, thank you for your great work.
My question is: I am finally breaking out with a mainstream album this summer after many of years of hiding my talents, afraid of rejection. Although I am now ready to go for it, I'm pushing 50, so my confidence is a little shakey in this age of tight young bodies. I was wondering if you could give me any advice on the eve of my "going for it" with my music career.
Thanks and Love and Blessings with your wonderful and full life as it is now, and your health.
Helen Reddy: It is difficult nowadays when music has become more a visual medium than an audio one. But I would advise you to emphasize what is unique about yourself and not try to imitate younger people who may not have your musical talent.
Fairfax, Va.: I saw you recently on the Today show and so enjoyed the film clips of your TV Show -- those were the wonderful years of TV -- when it was "FUN" to watch TV and feel good. Thank you for your input into those wonderful years.
Helen Reddy: I agree with you. I miss those shows too but nowadays I would rather read.
Washington, D.C.: Why did you write I Am Woman and what were you saying back then in 1972?
Helen Reddy: I answer you question at length in my book, The Woman I Am.
Charles Town, W.Va.: In your book, you talk about signs that you have received from loved ones who have passed. Do you think we all receive these kinds of signs and how do we keep from missing them?
Helen Reddy: I think we all receive signs and sometimes they are so subtle we don't notice them. But if you specifically ask for a sign it will come. However, it may not happen right away. It may take weeks or months before you get that sign.
Currie, Minn.: I had the good fortune of seeing you in concert in the 70s and 80s and I must say that I am sorry my children will not have that opportunity, but they have Pete's Dragon and, of course, your music. My 7-year-old prefers your older music, while my 4-year-old stole my Center Stage CD! Have you considered perhaps writing a children's book?
Helen Reddy: I have considered it, yes, but I have not yet done it. It's a great idea.
Crystal City, Va.: When did your TV show air and is it now available on DVD?
Helen Reddy: The show aired in the summer of 1973 and no, it is not available on DVD.
Sterling, Va.: You were stunning in Blood Brothers on Broadway. Did you prefer performing with others in an ensemble such as that or did you prefer the concert stage?
Helen Reddy: What I most enjoyed when I was performing was the variety so being able to a stage show with others was wonderful. I also loved performing in Shirley Valentine, which is a one-woman play, as well as the concert stage. I enjoyed every medium that I worked in ... and I've covered them all: theater, concerts, television, film and recording.
Herndon, Va.: Would you as a woman find it hard to break into the music scene at the present time and what advice would you give women of today about who they are and what role they play in today world's (not just women in the U.S. but around the world)?
Helen Reddy: I wouldn't attempt to break into the music business today and my advice to any woman is be true to yourself. Don't listen to the voices that tell you you are too fat, too thin, too old, too young, not blonde enough, etc., etc.
Arlington, Va.: Are you going to be making any appearances or doing any book signings in the Washington, D.C. area?
Helen Reddy: There is nothing planned at this time.
Alexandria, Va.: Speaking of film, Pete's Dragon is an excellent, positive movie for children as well as adults. I read, at the time you made it, that you wanted to make a film that you would be proud to have your grandchildren see. Has your granddaughter seen it and what did she think?
Helen Reddy: Yes, my granddaughter has and she was very pleasantly surprised as she had no idea her grandmother was a movie star.
Newark, N.J.: How did you enjoy "Reddy or Not"?
Helen Reddy: I saw that the other night in New York. I loved it. It's this couple and they've made a cabaret act of my music. They've woven some of my songs into their own story and I thought it was very funny.
Charles Town, W.Va.: I just want to thank you for sharing so much about yourself in the book. Was it difficult writing some of it and how did you decide what to leave out?
Helen Reddy: It's hard writing, period. I was truthful in my book but I was also mindful not to deliberately hurt anyone.
Washington, D.C.: When did you last perform and did you have a farewell concert?
Helen Reddy: I made the decision to retire in 2000 and not to accept anymore bookings; however, I did honor the contracts I still had to fulfill. My last two performances were with the Edmonton Symphony in Canada and fans came from 13 different U.S. states to attend.
Burger Commercials: Have you seen the burger commercials with a rock version of your song and a bunch of guys singing "I am Man" as they eat the meat? My wife loves that spot (of course, she has a great sense of humor).
Helen Reddy: I have not seen the commercial but I gave my approval for it to the ad agency. (I am the lyricist.) I thought it was funny. Everybody I asked thought it was funny.
Helen Reddy: Thank you so much for all your wonderful questions.
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