Linda Ronstadt, one of the greatest musical interpreters of her generation, wished upon a star and turned her dream to become a singer into reality. She became the top-selling female artist of the 1970s, earning 11 Grammy Awards and selling more than 100 million albums worldwide over a four-decade career. The legendary songstress tells her story in a her new book, “Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir.”
Ronstadt, 67, recently made news for another reason, however. In an August interview with AARP.org, she revealed she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and could no longer sing. The iconic singer had actually been diagnosed eight months earlier but did not include this revelation in her memoir because it was not confirmed by the time her book went to press.
Ronstadt said she had been experiencing symptoms for as long as eight years but attributed them to a tick bite and shoulder surgery, which she believed caused the trembling in her hands. She said she now uses poles to walk on uneven ground and a wheelchair when traveling.
The news about Ronstadt’s diagnosis left me in shock. Being a fan and admirer, it broke my heart. But it also hit close to home with me, as I have seen two generations of my family succumb to Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder for which I am also at risk. But from everything I’ve read about Ronstadt, she is a fighter and has never backed away from a challenge. “You always learn more from failure than success. I really believe that,” and, “I think adversity is a great teacher,” she said in the AARP article and her memoir.
One of the reasons I have come to respect and admire Linda greatly, aside from her voice and talent, is her intelligence and knowledge of music as an art form. “I feel sorry for a culture that depends too much on delegating its musical expression to professionals,” she said. “It is fine to have heroes, but we should do our own singing first, even if it is never heard beyond the shower curtain.”
She has been an inspiration to me, helping me to realize my dreams.
“You never stand in the way of people’s dreams,” Ronstadt said in a recent interview. “You get in the energy with their dreams. You let them blow and you can be a sail, and the energy of their dreams will blow you along.”
Ronstadt took me on a journey of my own during her career. I can remember first hearing her sweet voice as a child. Over time I drifted away from her, only recently rediscovering the magic of her music. This journey has come full circle with Ronstadt’s memoir and the news of her illness. I will meet her for the first time Thursday in San Francisco, Ronstadt’s home and one of the stops on a national book promotion tour.
To me, Ronstadt always has been the perfect example of class, honesty and integrity, values that seem rare in the entertainment world today. I found her memoir to be very heartfelt and intelligently, graciously and thoughtfully written. She has put together an incredible collection of music, people, places and events, and organized them into a book that is as rich as any poet or songwriter can craft into their art.
Once asked why people sing, Ronstadt replied, “They sing so the subsequent generations won’t forget what the current generation endured, or dreamed, or delighted in.” She also described singing as true art: “The essential elements of singing are voice, musicianship and story. It is the rare artist who has all three in abundance.”
Ronstadt may have lost her singing voice, but her words come out just as beautifully as they did in song. I hope she will find a second career, as she now faces a new challenge in the next chapter of her extraordinary life.