Real-life 'Peggy Sue,' inspiration for Buddy Holly's song, has died at 78

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, the woman behind Buddy Holly’s song “Peggy Sue,” died on Oct. 1. She is pictured here in 2008 signing her autobiography. (Photo: Jaime R. Carrero/Tyler Morning Telegraph, via AP)

The woman who Buddy Holly sang about in his 1957 song “Peggy Sue” has died.

Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham of Lubbock, Texas, died on Monday. According to the Associated Press, she died at University Medical Center, but no further details were provided. According to Lake Ridge Chapel & Memorial Designers’ website, her family has yet to post her obituary, but a funeral for the 78-year-old will take place on Oct. 13.

Buddy Holly performing with his band the Crickets — that’s drummer Jerry Allison on the drums — on The  Ed Sullivan Show on Jan. 26, 1958. (Photo: Steve Oroz/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Holly had a brief career, dying in 1959 at age 22 on the “day the music died,” but one of his hits to quickly rise up the charts was the song about “pretty, pretty Peggy Sue.” Funny enough, the song was originally titled “Cindy Lou,” after Holly’s niece, but it was later changed to Peggy Sue for Rackham, who was the girlfriend of Holly’s best friend and the Crickets’ bandmate Jerry Allison. Allison helped write the song with Holly (as well as producer and songwriter Norman Petty) and persuaded his pal to change the name to impress Rackham, with whom he was having a lovers’ spat. “Peggy Sue,” a hit single in 1957, went on to become a gold record, and the song, once called “the first international rock anthem,” was covered by many other artists, including John Lennon and Connie Francis.

Holly later wrote the song sequel “Peggy Sue Got Married,” which was posthumously released. In 1986, a film by the same name was released, starring actress Kathleen Turner as a character with the same name.

In 2008, Rackham released the book Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?: A Memoir by Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue. The woman described as a “mysterious figure,” who always left “a single red rose” at Holly’s “grave each year,” gave fans insight into who she was and used 150 of her diary entries from the time she knew Holly to write the book. She told the Associated Press at the time, “I wanted to give him his voice. We were very, very good friends. He was probably one of the best friends I ever had.”

The real “Peggy Sue,” Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, died on Monday. Her funeral service is expected to take place next week. (Image: memorialdesigners.net)

Rackham married (though later divorced) Allison, and Holly, whose hits also included “That’ll Be the Day” and “Maybe Baby,” tied the knot as well. Her book talked about what happened between them after the marriages and how things between them changed “unexpectedly.” She also wrote about prophetic nightmares she had of impending tragedy, and how the Feb. 3, 1959, plane crash that killed Holly — as well as musicians Ritchie Valens and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson — shattered her. However, when the Crickets reformed after the plane crash, she traveled with the group as they toured and recorded.

Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham’s memoir, Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?: A Memoir by Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue, was released in 2008 — nearly 50 years after the song “Peggy Sue” came out. (Image: Amazon)

According to the biography on her website, Rackham went on to attend junior college and became a dental assistant. However, she focused on helping her second husband, with whom she started a family, with his plumbing business, and became California’s first female licensed woman plumber in the process. Rackham later returned to Lubbock to care for her ailing mother, and her career centered around being a celebrity speaker, columnist, and radio host (for a show called Rave On). In her later years, she also had a job preventing domestic violence and drug abuse.

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