Dusty lost her self-confidence in the U.S. after she moved there in 1972. In the UK and Europe, she had been an established star known for her wide range of musical styles and genres. In the U.S., she was known for her top singles of the moment and she felt that she wouldn’t be accepted as a versatile performer but rather expected to narrowly tailor her concerts to fit the expectations of her latest hit.
“It just got too big for me. I just never felt that I could perform to an American audience and that they would like me, that they would always be critical. It’s been an absolute delight to discover that they are no more critical … in fact, sometimes less so … and far kinder than a lot of European audiences.” 
She continued to record and release albums but largely withdrew from public life and performances during the 1970s and early 1980s. Also, she often performed incognito backup session vocals for other top singers, such as Elton John, Anne Murray, and Kiki Dee. Rather than seeing them as rivals, Dusty loved making music with them. Her alter ego as a backup singer (for credits on albums) was named Gladys Thong, I kid you not (anyone who thinks Dusty didn’t have a wicked sense of humor is grossly mistaken — she thought food-throwing mock fights were jolly good fun). 
“It all started when I made some demo records for Doris Troy when she was here and then I started to sing on Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan and Kiki Dee's records. I don't see why I shouldn't. They sing on mine and we're all friends." 
Wishin’ and hopin’ for love
Part of her public withdrawal was her own shy nature but another part was worry about the tabloid press. Rumors had spread for years about her sexuality and reporters were no longer shy about direct questions.
In 1970, she briefly talked in an interview about being bisexual.  For you youngsters, that was a huge deal back then, often a career breaker. Dusty stuck one foot out of the closet but then promptly slammed the door shut again for a couple more years.
“A lot of people say I'm bent [British slang for “gay”], and I've heard it so many times that I've almost learned to accept it.... Girls run after me a lot, and it doesn't upset me”.
She was sure that the public would reject her as some kind of deviant and her popularity did indeed drop. 
Eventually she would throw the closet door wide open, even holding a symbolic marriage ceremony with one of her female partners in California many years before marriage equality there. Although Dusty said she was bisexual, most people today think of her as a lesbian: all of her known relationships were with women and those of us around back then understand how daring it was even to admit to a single fleeting bisexual thought, much less come out as fully gay or lesbian.
But Dusty was a complex real person, so she could be as self-contradictory as the rest of us. She certainly knew she had a huge gay following and wasn’t at all shy about acknowledging her gay fans (not to mention the hundreds of drag queens who portrayed her).
Once, Dusty made a joke about “royalty” (i.e., her gay fans, the “queens”) in the audience during a performance for Princess Margaret. She commented
“It’s nice to see the royalty isn’t confined to the box”
referring to the box section reserved for the princess or other royals. Her Royal Highness was not amused. Several days later Dusty received a note from the palace instructing her to sign the enclosed statement apologizing for her insult to the royal family. Dusty dutifully signed it. [18, 19, 1]
Oddly enough, rumors have persisted for years that later Princess Margaret had a fling with Dusty (Margaret was considered something of a wild party girl in her youth, with quite a few dalliances).
Sadly, her romantic relationships weren’t exactly the stuff of which legends are made. Dusty seems to have taken not only her love of music from her family but also the dysfunctional patterns of her parents’ marriage, which involved a lot of shouting, throwing things, and general mayhem: the look of love was likely to soon be followed by the hurling of crockery.
Substance abuse became a problem for her during these “lost years.” It’s hard to know if her romantic fiascos led to her substance problems or if the problems led to the romantic fiascos. Either way, Dusty confided to Anne Murray that drink and drugs had blotted out a huge chunk of her life in California. She said that
… she could only dimly remember seven years of her life. That was no exaggeration. One night after a day in the studio, a group of us trooped back to my home for a delivery of Chinese food. Over spareribs and chow mein my brother Bruce told Dusty how much he'd enjoyed a performance of hers in the Bahamas in the early 1970s; he'd been there during a vacation. She said, "I've never been to the Bahamas in my life." 
Perhaps her overly dramatic and unsatisfying love life encouraged her love of animals. Along with cherishing a number of cats over the years, Dusty became very involved with Wildlife Waystation, a sanctuary for abandoned, injured, or mistreated wild and exotic animals during her time in the US. 
Back to the future
After years of shattered relationships and problems with alcohol and drugs, Dusty finally got her life back on track in the 1980s. She began recording again more regularly, doing television appearances, and demonstrated a new confidence in herself and the future:
“… there is a difference between expectation and hope. I shall become something different and successful all over again. I will retain the good things because they are still valid but I want to add to them, not live off them.” 
Her career made a strong comeback when she accepted an invitation from the Pet Shop Boys — huge fans of hers for many years — to do a duet with them: What Have I Done To Deserve This? Subsequently, she recorded an album with several songs penned by the Pet Shop Boys especially for her. Another big hit for Dusty around this time was a duet she did with B. J. Thomas, As Long as We Got Each Other.
For her final album, A Very Fine Love, Dusty went back to her musical roots. More than thirty years after the Springfields went to Nashville to record a country album, Dusty returned there. Although not exactly a country-western album, it does have a distinct country flavor, bringing Dusty full circle in her professional life.
There are so many songs that won’t be sung
In 1994, Dusty was diagnosed with breast cancer. But, she refused to let it conquer her and called on her sense of humor to back her up. She teamed up with the BBC, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders for a mockumentary about her life, called Dusty — Full Circle, available on both Youtube and Vimeo. In comments on Youtube, a number of people were quite upset about it, feeling that Dusty was being treated with ridicule. They had no idea that she was actually a huge fan of the comedic duo and was eager to play along with them; she is even credited with “Late night ideas” in the end credits (one can imagine her phoning them up in the middle of the night with “Wouldn’t it be funny if ...”).
You would think people would figure out that she was completely into the wackiness when she gave her answer to the first question by Dawn French, a dig at her well known former struggles with alcohol.
Dawn: What’s your favorite color?
Dusty: Vodka. 
She loved Absolutely Fabulous, the brilliant comedy series by Jennifer Saunders. Dusty and one of her close friends called each other “Eddie” and “Patsy”, the over-the-top principal characters of the show.  I find it impossible to believe that Joanna Lumley (“Patsy Stone”) didn’t base her character’s appearance on Dusty’s iconic blond bouffant hair and glopped on eye makeup, eternally stuck in the 1960s (Patsy was a former fashion model rather than a singer but both Patsy and Dusty created their public images during the Swinging Sixties).
Dusty really had made a comeback in her personal life, not just as a performer, in her later years. She finally seemed comfortable with herself, her fame, and her talent and displayed a very different level of confidence and happiness in the many interviews of that period; she also showed the public how much fun she could be, appearing on comedic shows like the mockumentary above and Dame Edna Everage. Perhaps she realized that she didn’t have a lot of time left and needed to make the most of it.
The 1999 New Year Honours list named Dusty to be invested as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) with the honor to be bestowed by Queen Elizabeth at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on March 2. Dusty was gravely ill at the time, with a bleak prognosis. By special permission of Her Majesty, she was awarded the OBE in hospital in January.
Dusty succumbed to her five-year long battle with breast cancer on March 2, 1999, the very day that she otherwise would have gone to the palace to be decorated by her sovereign for her outstanding contributions to the arts. She was 59 years old.
Dusty is gone but not forgotten. Today, twenty years after her death, her music is still played and widely recognized around the world. In 2018, her songs were included in seven feature films — pretty good for a singer who left us two decades ago. 
Soul singer Madeline Bell, who sang backup session vocals for Dusty while pursuing her own solo career, has said
“She was too good … I shouldn’t say too good for her time but she was ... because she was the best. She was the best singer, she was the best performer.” 
Anne Murray, in her memoir of her life, wrote about the many great female singers whom she admired and who influenced her — from Sarah Vaughan to Patti Labelle to Mahalia Jackson.
But if I had to pick one artist who, song after song, always touched something deep inside me, it would be Dusty. 
Dusty wasn’t a legend in her own mind. She loved making music but didn’t need to be fawned over as a celebrity. Time and again, people both famous and not famous have recalled her acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. For example, when Pat Rhodes got married, Dusty attended the wedding in an off-the-rack dress and without her signature eye makeup and wig; she came as Mary so that Dusty wouldn’t take any attention away from her friend on her special day. 
Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys has discussed Dusty’s perfectionistic and excruciating recording technique. Most singers will sing a song all the way through several times, or perhaps sing a verse or chorus a number of times, and then with the studio team they select the versions of verse or chorus to put in the final track. For most, it’s easier to “get in the groove” of the music when it’s not all starts and stops.
Not Dusty. She would record a single word or even a single syllable at a time and then stop. Dusty knew exactly how she wanted every note of her singing to sound and unbelievably enough she could actually hit that sound from out of nowhere and know how the entire set of recorded notes would ultimately sound together. While it seemingly took forever to lay down a track, the results were astonishing to Neil Tennant.
“I learned an awful lot about singing just from listening and watching her recording.”
“Dusty takes your song and makes it sound ten times better.” 
That’s one reason that the top songwriters of her time — such as Burt Bacharach, Carole King, and Randy Newman — sought out Dusty to debut their tunes.  She had an intuitive grasp of how a song should sound in order to express profound emotions.
A good example of this is her rendition of The Windmills of Your Mind. The lyrics create a picture of whirring gears that symbolize the spinning and chaotic thoughts in our minds due to stress, worry, or other strong emotions. Dusty grokked that and made a change the composer had never thought of: she started it slower than the designated tempo and then increased the pace, so that by the end it is moving about 25% faster than at the beginning. That speeding up gives her version the sense of urgency and loss of control that is exactly what the lyrics are describing. Genius!
Music journalist Mat Snow has a good wrap-up of Dusty’s musical legacy:
'She was an unconscious stylistic revolutionary, but a revolutionary none the less. Her emergence symbolised the beginning of a new era, with white singers adopting the emotional range of black artists.
The unusual thing about her as big star was that she appeased her hunger for stardom quite quickly, and was not desperate to keep plugging away. She went into semi-retirement with barely a backward glance. Her legacy is the style in which every British singer sings.' 
Sir Elton John was literally a fan of Dusty’s, joining her fan club as a boy. Over the years, he has corrected the record during interviews when people tried to narrowly define Dusty’s talent and works, such as calling her “Britain’s best female soul singer.” He is adamant that Dusty can’t be limited by geography, gender, or genre. When he inducted her posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he summed up Dusty’s talent succinctly and accurately; he said she was
“… the greatest white singer there ever has been." 
Listen to this and I think you’ll agree with Elton.
Requiescat in pace
Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, OBE
April 16, 1939 — March 2, 1999
Note that the sources below are for both parts of this story so not all sources are referenced in this part.
 Dusty Springfield - Sixties Superstar at Youtube
 Interview of Dusty Springfield on City Lights (Canada, 1981) at Youtube
 The secret life of Dusty Springfield by Michele Kort, 1999, at the Advocate, archived at the Free Library
 The Lana Sisters at Chantellemusic
 Interview with four people closest to Dusty, part 2 of 5 at Youtube
 Petula Clark commentary on Dusty Springfield, part 2 at Youtube
 Silver Threads and Golden Needles at Wikipedia
 Tell Him at Wikipedia
 Murray the K's Live Show Talent Roster at the Murray the K Archives
 British Invasion at WIkipedia
 I Only Want To Be With You at Wikipedia
 1964-1988: pop in protest at the Herald (Scotland)
 Dusty Springfield and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, It Must Be Dusty, 1968 at Receiving Broadcasts from the Past
 60s TV Shows at Simon Bell’s Devotedly Dusty
 Interview with four people closest to Dusty, part 4 of 5 at Youtube
 Interview on Good Morning, Britain 1985 (Part II) at Youtube
 DUSTY CHANGES HER NAME TO GLADYS THONG! by Penny Valentine at Disc & Music Echo (1966) via the Web Archive
 Dusty Springfield made a jibe about the Queen... then signed a written apology sent to her by Princess Margaret, it is claimed at Daily Mail UK
 Interview with four people closest to Dusty, part 1 of 5 at Youtube
 Dusty Springfield 'touched something deep inside me' by Anne Murray at the Globe and Mail
 Dusty - Full Circle (BBC documentary interview by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French. 1994) at Vimeo
 Commentary on Full Circle at Let’s Talk Dusty
 Neil Tennant on Dusty at Youtube
 Dusty Springfield: 60s idol to 90s icon by Libby Brooks at the Guardian
 Dusty Springfield by Frank Tortorici at MTV
 Dusty Springfield at IMDb
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