The legendary Helen Reddy first made an indelible impression more than three decades ago with a string of pop hits, including 'Delta Dawn' and the anthemic 'I Am Woman.' However, she has moved on to another phase: After permanently retiring from performing in 2002, she has become a clinical hypnotherapist and motivational speaker. Before coming to Transitions Bookstore, 1000 W. North, on Thurs., April 24, to promote her memoir, Helen Reddy: The Woman I Am, she spoke with Windy City Times about feminism, politics, ghosts and Elvis Presley.
Windy City Times: First of all, did you realize that you have such a large following in the LGBT community?
Helen Reddy: Well, quite honestly, Andrew, I don't think of gay people as being a separate species. I have many friends, fans and supporters, and they run the gamut.
WCT: Obviously, 'I Am Woman' became a huge feminist anthem. How have you seen feminism change from the '70s until now?
HR: [ Laughs ] You might be better off asking me that question [ later ] ; I'll be the keynote speaker at a NOW [ National Organization for Women ] conference later on. I've sort of been living outside the United States for the past seven or eight years—I've been a little out of touch over the past several years, but I certainly am not pleased with what I see when I look around. We made so much progress in the '70s, and so much has gotten shot to 'heck,' as they would say in USA Today. [ Ed. note: A recent article on Reddy in that newspaper apparently substituted 'heck' for 'hell.' ] By the way, when did they start censoring the word 'hell' in newspapers?
WCT: Well, we don't. We don't censor any [ words ] .
HR: Well, that's good. I'm glad to hear that. Censoring that just seems ridiculous.
WCT: You actually lived in Chicago for a while. What was that like?
HR: I lived there in 1967-1968. Unfortunately for me, I wasn't there during the summer [ laughs ] , so I can only say, 'Cold.' Coming from Australia, I had never experienced cold like that, and I never saw snow until I went to New York when I was 25.
I was one of the first people who lived in Lake Point Tower [ a condo building located at 505 N. Lake Shore ] ; when we moved in, they were still constructing the top stories. The doorman used to call me 'Stranger' because I left the building once a week because I could not deal with the cold. [ Laughs ] I did an outdoor concert in Chicago one summer, and it's lovely in the summer.
I consider my time there very important because I was in a revue with the Happy Medium Theater and I appeared at [ the nightclub ] Mister Kelly's. It was sort of a breakthrough for me in terms of American show business.
WCT: Let's talk about your memoir. First, why did you write it?
HR: I didn't really intend to. I had been approached many, many times to write an autobiography and I had no interest in doing so; it seemed that the emphasis they were looking for was on negative sensationalism. But I was finally approached by the woman who is now my literary agent; I met her because she's married to a psychiatrist who refers patients to me. We had discussed psychic and spiritual matters, and she wrote me a note and asked if I had thought about writing a body, mind and spirit book; I was intrigued by this. I started writing and realized that, in order to make sense out of what I was talking about, I had to show the experiences I had within the context of my life and how they impacted me. Before I knew what I was doing, I was writing a memoir.
WCT: [ In your book, ] one of the topics you cover is out-of-body experiences.
HR: It only takes one [ experience ] to understand that you are not your body; you are inside a body—one that you can leave and still exist.
WCT: This has been a spirit-filled week for me. I recently talked with spiritual medium James Van Praagh for a while about ghosts. Out of curiosity, what's your position? Do you believe in ghosts?
HR: I believe that there are spirits around, and that there are angels. I just don't believe in negative entities, and it really bothers me that that's what television presents. It's always evil spirits or solving murders. Most of the mediums and psychics I know actually heal people and are not involved in all that negativity.
WCT: I was wondering if you could explain why you decided to become a hypnotherapist.
HR: I was aware of hypnotism as a young girl because I was in show business. I had seen stage hypnotists but had never taken them very seriously because I thought it was all magic and tricks.
It was not until my teens and I read [ Morey Bernstein's ] The Search for Bridey Murphy, which talked about an amateur hypnotist regressing to a previous life, [ that I became intrigued ] . There was so much that really rang true with me—you know that tingle you get in the back of your neck when something is true? And I never thought of hypnotism in that context. Also, the book introduced me to the concept of reincarnation, and that suddenly made sense of so many things that religion could not explain to my satisfaction.
WCT: Something I saw in the book related to past-life regressions is that you believe that Elvis Presley was King Tut.
HR: Yes, that was something that came through.
WCT: You list a series of coincidences between the two.
HR: They seem to confirm the feeling that I had [ and ] that other people were tuning into. And I do believe that people of a certain spiritual path have a succession of famous lives, and the object of the lesson there is to become immune to adulation. You can't be a true spiritual teacher if your ego is swayed by the crowd.
WCT: Switching gears, many of your fans [ must be ] heartbroken to know that you retired from performing in 2002.
HR: That was my last performance. I made the decision, but I still had engagements that were still on the books, and so I fulfilled [ those ] obligations. My last performance was with the Edmonton Symphony in 2002.
WCT: So there's no chance of you 'un-retiring?'
HR: Not a chance in heck. No, no; I've finally gotten rid of the ''70s pop star' label forever.
WCT: Was there anything you didn't include in your memoir that you wish you had?
HR: Oh, well, there always are. [ Laughs ] But I'm thinking about the next book now; I've had some very interesting experiences since I wrote the book, particularly as far as hypnotherapy is concerned. In the last several months, I had two clients within the space of eight days, both of whom thought they saw Jesus; usually, [ people ] think they see deceased relatives, but it's extraordinary for a religious figure to come through twice in an eight-day period—but we are living in rather extraordinary times.
WCT: I would definitely agree. Something else I noticed in the book is that you've gone through so many traumatic situations ( in addition to the high points ) : being diagnosed with Addison's disease, losing your parents and [ recently ] losing your daughter-in-law [ as stated in the memoir's epilogue ] . How did you get through those [ developments ] ?
HR: We're never given more than we can handle. By the way, it's been three years since my daughter-in-law passed away; my son and business manager, Jordan, has remarried since and is very happy. It's wonderful; he's become a feminist—he's this sensitive, caring man.
WCT: What would you like readers to take away from your book?
HR: Curiosity—that they want to read and learn more. Hopefully, I will have opened a few windows, that there are things that they want to explore. I would like to think that it changes their lives in some way.
WCT: Is there anything you wanted to add?
HR: I feel that this is a good time in my life; I'm probably happier than I've ever been. I love where I'm living [ Sydney, Australia ] . In some ways, it reminds me of what America used to be like. My children and grandchild are healthy; life is very good. I just wish the United States had not been cast into such a deep hole.
WCT: [ Some say ] that the past eight years have been [ rough ] .
HR: Yes, but what's worse is that no one's been allowed to say so.
WCT: Well, voters will have their say this November, and many are hoping for some sort of change.
HR: Well, there has to be some kind of change. I worry that, at the last minute, certain people want to invade Iran and the election will have to be cancelled. Power is never relinquished willingly. [ Zimbabwe President ] Robert Mugabe may not be the only one who wants to cling to power.
WCT: Well, on that possibly apocalyptic note … [ Both laugh. ] It's been a pleasure.
HR: All the best.
Helen Reddy will be at Transitions Bookstore Thurs., April 24, at 7 p.m. to promote her memoir, The Woman I Am. Tickets are $30 for members and $35 for non-members; call 312-951-7323.