June 30, 1995: Phyllis Hyman committed suicide by overdosing on pentobarbital and secobarbital in the bedroom of her New York City apartment at 211 West 56th Street.
She was found unconscious at 2:00 pm, hours before she was scheduled to perform at the Apollo Theater and died 3 hours later at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.
Her suicide note read in part:
“I’m tired. I’m tired. Those of you that I love know who you are. May God bless you.”
She was 45 years old. A memorial service was held at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan. The following week would have been her 46th birthday.
Phyllis Linda Hyman was a singer-songwriter and actress. Deep-voiced and statuesque, Phyllis Hyman sang with a life-affirming energy and emotional intensity found in few other female vocalists.
Born in Philadelphia in 1949, her professional career began in New York City where, during an engagement, she was spotted by producer Norman Connors and contemporaries Jean Carne and Roberta Flack, among others. She was immediately offered a guest appearance on Connors’ “You Are My Starship” album (1976), which included her classic rendition of “Betcha By Golly Wow” (previously a hit for The Stylistics in the early 1970s).
In 1992 Phyllis was voted Number One Best Female Vocalist in the United Kingdom by Blues & Soul magazine readers, beating out the likes of Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, and Aretha Franklin. During this time Phyllis became involved in combating the AIDS crisis by lending her voice to countless benefit shows and visiting wards and hospices in and around New York. Many patients requested Phyllis’ presence, which left the singer feeling inadequate and perplexed as to their reasons for wanting to see her as opposed to a family member or friends. The visits took a heavier toll on Phyllis than she realized.
By now, her own personal problems were becoming evident. An ongoing battle with alcohol and weight gain, combined with career and financial woes, were making life difficult for her and those around her. In 1993 she was dealt another blow when both her mother and grandmother died within a month of one another.
Although Phyllis continued to record new material and perform live, her bouts of depression were clearly overwhelming her. Her irrational, self-destructive behavior was becoming common knowledge to those inside the music industry, her friends and also her fans.
On June 30, 1995, she ended her life. Her suicide, while shocking, was not a surprise to many insiders.
In November 1995, Hyman’s posthumous album I Refuse to Be Lonely, was released. Although the project had an overdrawn gestation, to combat the delay in its commercial release, Hyman started performing the tracks, “This Too Shall Pass” and “I Refuse To Be Lonely” in concert. The delay in the album’s release adversely affected Hyman both emotionally & financially and the delay was said to be cited over “cost negotiations”.
3 years after her death, a second posthumous album of previously unreleased material was released. Songs were culled from various recording sessions from the mid-1980s into the early 1990s. Forever With You (1998) contains love songs, torch songs, bittersweet ballads, smooth jazz offerings and up-tempo tracks, most of which showcase Hyman’s’ usual interpretation of heartbreak and strife. Hyman was quoted as saying that these songs were about “relationships gone bad!” Much of the material on this album was initially intended for her Living All Alone release. The song “Funny How Love Goes” contains a posthumous “duet” featuring vocalist Damon Williams. Half of Hyman’s vocals were re-recorded with both singers alternating vocals and providing Williams with exposure.
A UK label Expansion released a jazz-soul orientated compilation in 2003 called In Between The Heartaches that featured cuts from her collaborations with Norman Connors, McCoy Tyner, Jon Lucien and Pharoah Sanders. It also included five unreleased tracks from her period with Arista records.
In September 2007, an authorized biography was released. The book entitled Strength of a Woman: the Phyllis Hyman Story, is written by Jason A. Michael in cooperation with the Estate of Phyllis Hyman. The book mentions Hyman’s relationships with both men and women.
In 2008, an original version of the James Bond theme “Never Say Never Again”, which wasn’t used in the film due to contractual issues, was released by the track’s co-writer Stephen Forsythe.
Stephen Forsythe has been quoted as stating:
“During the filming of the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again, I co-wrote the title song for the movie with Jim Ryan. Warner Brothers informed our attorney that the song was to be used as the title song in the picture. However, shortly before its release, Warner Bros informed us that the song could not be used because Michel Legrand, who wrote the score, threatened to sue them, claiming that contractually he had the right to the title song. So my song was never released. The legendary Phyllis Hyman was my first choice to sing the song and working with her is one of the highlights of my musical career. I personally auditioned and sang the song to her while she was having breakfast in her manager’s office. After agreeing to sing the song, she arrived at the studio and, without any rehearsal and only having heard the song sung once at the breakfast audition, sang the song in one perfect take. Phyllis sadly took her own life in the early nineties. The year before she died, she called me late one night and told me she felt that “Never Say Never Again” was her best and favorite recording.”
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