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‘Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue,’ immortalized by Buddy Holly, dies at 78

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Peggy Sue Gerron was 17 years old, a senior at a Catholic girls’ school, when the world heard her name radiate through the airwaves over and over on its way to rock-and-roll immortality.

And she was in the crowd the night Buddy Holly and the Crickets played it for her for the first time at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, as she sunk down in her chair and blushed while dozens of people screamed her name.

“Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue,” Buddy Holly sang in the 1957 single, “Oh, how my heart yearns for you!”

The Peggy Sue of Buddy Holly and the Crickets fame would go on to become one of the most influential songs in rock history. But Peggy Sue herself — whose love interest was not Holly but Crickets drummer Jerry Allison — would drift out of the 1950s to trade poodle skirts for dental hygienist scrubs, going on to raise a family and start a business in California.

As she wrote on her own website: “Peggy Sue is much more than a song.”

On Monday, Peggy Sue Gerron died at University Medical Center hospital in Lubbock, Tex. — her hometown, a spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed to The Washington Post. She was 78.

Gerron was born in Olton, Tex., and grew up in Lubbock, where she would meet Holly and Allison, the man she would later marry. The three attended Lubbock High School. And once Allison and Gerron started going steady, they frequently joined Holly and his girlfriend for Cokes at the Hi-D-Ho Drive-In, as Gerron recounted in her 2008 memoir, “Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?

But just as Holly and the Crickets’ music started to take off, Gerron moved to Sacramento to finish at the Catholic high school. Their paths wouldn’t cross again until she got a call from her old boyfriend, Allison, inviting her to the show at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium where they were on tour.

Allison planned to woo her back with the “Peggy Sue” surprise.

The song was never supposed to be called “Peggy Sue,” as multiple Crickets, including Allison, have said in interviews over the years. Originally, the band planned to call it “Cindy Lou,” named for Holly’s niece. But producer Norman Petty had an issue with its cha-cha rhythm, as Allison told NPR in 2000. Allison said he would agree to change it to a paradiddle — a rapid drumbeat — if Holly would agree to change the name to “Peggy Sue,” he told NPR. He wanted to impress Gerron.

And it apparently worked.

“I think Buddy was playing a little bit of Cupid there,” Gerron told the Austin American-Statesman in 1999, referring to the Sacramento performance.

Once Gerron graduated from high school in 1958, she married Allison, prompting a sequel to “Peggy Sue” written by Holly called “Peggy Sue Got Married.”

“This is what I heard/Of course the story could be wrong,” he sang in the 1958 track. “She’s the one/I’ve been told/Well, she’s wearing a band of gold/Peggy Sue got married not long ago.”

Holly recorded the song on a home tape recorder in December 1958 — two months before he died tragically in a plane crash in Iowa, along with singer Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and the pilot. The day, Feb. 3, 1959, famously became known as “the day the music died” in Don McLean’s song “American Pie.”

Holly’s “Peggy Sue Got Married” was released posthumously, later inspiring a Francis Ford Coppola movie of the same name, starring Kathleen Turner and Nicholas Cage, but with a wildly different plot.

Allison and Gerron were married for nine years. After their divorce, she went to Pasadena Junior College in California and became a dental assistant, according to her website, then met her second husband. The couple had two children together, and they eventually started their own plumbing and sewer-cleaning business called the Rapid Rooter.

Still, she said, her alternate identity as the “internationally recognized” Peggy Sue, as she described it on her website, never left her.

“I think they have me frozen in time,” she told the BBC in 2009. “I think when most people think of me, it’s as a young woman frozen in an era that has long passed. But that hasn’t limited me. You have to be you.”

Gerron ultimately returned to Lubbock in the mid-1990s to care for her ailing mother and to later write her memoir, she said on her website. The memoir, however, was not universally welcomed: Holly’s widow, Maria Elena Holly, threatened to sue Gerron over the book, claiming it contained fictionalized events.

Gerron, who by then was divorced from her second husband, claimed in the book that Holly, just as the song indicated, was her true love, and that if it were not for his death they would have each divorced their spouses and gotten married. She claimed that Holly even flirted with her on his honeymoon, but Maria Elena Holly told KCBD that Gerron and Allison did not join them on their honeymoon. Gerron had maintained that the information was pooled from 150 of her diary entries from the time period.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.

Friends and family told local news outlets that she would be remembered for being “plain good to people” in Lubbock, where she could often be heard on local radio sharing stories about Holly. She would be remembered for keeping the “joy of the ’50s alive,” her son-in-law, Tom Stathos, told KCBD.

And, of course, for her role in rock history.

“One thing she taught me was to never discriminate against music no matter what it is, because it’s part of your soul,” her grandson, Jeff Rackham, told KCBD. “That song will probably be stuck in my head forever.”

Here are the lyrics to Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.”

If you knew Peggy Sue
Then you’d know why I feel blue without Peggy
My Peggy Sue
Oh well, I love you gal, yes, I love you Peggy Sue
Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue
Oh how my heart yearns for you
Oh Peggy, my Peggy Sue
Oh well, I love you gal, yes, I love you Peggy Sue
Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue
Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue
Oh Peggy, my Peggy Sue
Oh well, I love you gal and I need you Peggy Sue
I love you Peggy Sue
With a love so rare and true
Oh Peggy, my Peggy Sue
Well I love you gal, I want you Peggy Sue
Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue
Pretty, pretty