Conny Van Dyke, an actress known for films like “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings” as well as her early singing career with Motown, has died at 78.
Van Dyke died Saturday, Nov. 11, due to complications from vascular dementia.
Her son, Bronson Page, confirmed the sad news to Fox News Digital, saying, “She was really phenomenal.”
Born in Virginia, but raised in Detroit, Van Dyke had a long career in music and acting, beginning at 15 when she appeared in a movie called “Among the Thorns,” and signed with Motown Records.
Van Dyke had been Miss Teen USA, and, according to Page, was discovered performing at a drive-in theater concession stand, “and [they] mentioned her to Smokey [Robinson], and the rest is history.”
She went on to release her first two singles, “Oh, Freddy,” written by Smokey Robinson, and “It Hurt Me Too,” previously written and recorded by Marvin Gaye.
Van Dyke went on to star in “Hell’s Angels ’69”, which, according to Variety, she called “a terrifying, and yet, exhilarating experience.”
Her movie career continued, with a role in the 1975 film “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings” alongside Burt Reynolds.
“When she was on screen, she lit up,” Page recalled.
His mother appeared in other films like “Framed,” and multiple television appearances, including “Adam-12,” “Barbary Coast” and “Nakia.”
Van Dyke took a break from acting in the late 1970s, but returned to onscreen roles in 2008 with appearances in “Cold Case” and “CSI.”
Page said of her return to acting, “I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I was like, She’s a natural. She always was.”
The star suffered from several health complications over the years as well, first being diagnosed with colon cancer in the early 90s.
“She really took it head on. The diagnosis was made accidentally. And when she learned of it she really charged in and took the chemotherapy and actually did really, really well with chemotherapy,” Page said.
“She’s always been a fighter, so she really fought and she beat it. We were really grateful. And then she just kind of kept going like this has never happened, which was always her way,” he continued.
Fifteen years ago, she also suffered a stroke that she never fully recovered from.
According to Page, “she never let it stop her. She had a really positive attitude about life. She was the same person. But just in a much mellower form.”
In looking back on his mother’s life, Page, who is her only child, noted a startling similarity to Britney Spears as he was reading her memoir, “The Woman in Me,” prior to Van Dyke’s death.
“It’s so interesting because here’s this girl, she’s 15 years old… She’s thrust into the public eye. She signs a record contract. People are listening to her music. And on a smaller scale, that’s exactly what happened to my mom,” he said.
He continued, “You know, she was 15 when she signed to Motown, and suddenly around all these people who have a very grown-up life and everything that goes with it, all of the sexism and chauvinism and abusive situations, all those things are persistent. And it really saddened me to see my mom’s story in Britney Spears’ story.”
Despite the hardships and frustration, Page said, “She was never bitter about any of it.”
Van Dyke had been working on a memoir throughout her life, and Page said he plans to complete it.
“The whole thing about my mom is, she lived very close to the fire, and that’s how she liked it,” Page said.
He recalled his mother telling him, after she had completed work on “Hell’s Angels ’69,” that they had a party on the beach, “And I sat so close to the fire that my eyelashes curled up… but I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.”