Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac dies at 79 after 'a short illness'

Christine McVie, the British keyboard player and co-vocalist in Fleetwood Mac whose honeyed voice steered numerous hits, died Wednesday. She was 79.

A member of Fleetwood Mac for more than 50 years – with a few intermittent breaks – McVie imbued the rock band's sound with a feathery touch.

The band posted a statement on their official social media accounts calling her “one-of-a-kind, special and talented beyond measure. She was the best musician anyone could have in their band and the best friend anyone could have in their life … We cherished Christine deeply and are thankful for the amazing memories we have.”

Fleetwood Mac’s representative, Kristen Foster, confirmed McVie’s death to USA TODAY.

According to McVie’s family, she “passed away peacefully at (the) hospital following a short illness.”

McVie joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970 and weathered the numerous dramatic upheavals within the band. She is the first member of the most commercially successful incarnation of the group – including her ex-husband John McVie (they were married from 1968 to 1976, but remained friendly as bandmates), Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham and band founder Mick Fleetwood – to die.

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Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac has died at 79.
Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac has died at 79.

Nicks posted a tender note and song lyrics from the Haim song "Hallelujah" on social media, calling McVie "my best friend in the whole world since the first day of 1975." Nicks said she only learned of McVie's illness on Saturday and was told to wait before heading to London to see her ailing musical partner.

In June, McVie told Rolling Stone that she suffered from scoliosis and was trying to “get my back better and get myself into decent shape again.”

As an integral part of Fleetwood Mac's lush sound, her mellifluous vocals painted many of their biggest hits, including “Don’t Stop,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “Hold Me,” “Everywhere,” “Little Lies” and the song that closed many of the band’s concerts, “Songbird.”

In addition to her decades of success with Fleetwood Mac, McVie fostered a thriving solo career.

Her eponymous second solo album, released in 1984, lifted her into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 with “Got a Hold on Me,” another of her sweet-yet-sophisticated pop songs.

In 2017, McVie paired with Buckingham for the album “Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie,” and the pair embarked on a 38-date tour that summer.

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Members of Fleetwood Mac celebrate their Grammy Award album of the year win for "Rumours" in Los Angeles on Feb. 23, 1978. From left: Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.
Members of Fleetwood Mac celebrate their Grammy Award album of the year win for "Rumours" in Los Angeles on Feb. 23, 1978. From left: Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.

But being on stage was never McVie’s calling. Following Fleetwood Mac’s 1990 Behind the Mask tour, McVie decided to stop touring with Fleetwood Mac, even though she remained a member of the band and continued to write songs for their records.

Along with Fleetwood Mac, McVie was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

Shortly after their induction, the musician/singer took a lengthy reprieve from Fleetwood Mac – which she attributed to her fear of flying and panic attacks about performing – to live in the English countryside. She rejoined the band in 2014 for its On With the Show tour and returned to the stage with the Buckingham-less group in 2018 and 2019 for a worldwide run on the band’s most recent tour, An Evening With Fleetwood Mac.

McVie told Rolling Stone that during her time away from the band, she “enjoyed having my dogs, living in the country, going for long walks. I just wasn’t interested in playing music at that point.” She added that after she decided to return to Fleetwood Mac, she “never regretted it.”

Born Christine Perfect in Lancashire, England, on July 12, 1943, McVie was introduced to music at an early age, as her father, Cyril, was a concert violinist and college music teacher. Her grandfather was an organist at Westminster Abbey.

Though McVie’s musical journey was initially steeped in classical music, hearing the songs of Fats Domino and The Everly Brothers shifted her focus to rock ’n’ roll.

Her early band, the blues-based Chicken Shack, had a hit in the U.K. in 1969 with the blues staple “I’d Rather Go Blind.” That same year, she married John McVie, already the bassist for the similarly blues-rooted Fleetwood Mac.

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Long a fan of the Peter Green-era of Fleetwood Mac – Christine played piano on the band’s second album, “Mr. Wonderful” – she officially joined the group in 1970 during a transitional period.

After a few years of a rotating cast of musicians, the arrival of Buckingham and Nicks in 1975 kickstarted the commercial success of Fleetwood Mac, spearheaded by Christine-penned songs, “Over My Head” and “Say You Love Me,” on which she also sang lead vocals.

The intra-band drama of Fleetwood Mac has become legendary in the annals of pop music and much of it is documented in the band’s landmark 1977 album, “Rumours.” By then, a combination of drugs and fractured relationships – Buckingham and Nicks’ romantic tumult, the McVies' divorce – threatened to unravel the group. But instead, “Rumours” became its greatest success (it won the 1978 album of the year Grammy) thanks to tart pop songs such as “Go Your Own Way” and Nicks’ ethereal “Dreams.”

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Stevie Nicks, right, mourned her bandmate Christine McVie, left, on social media: "My best friend in the whole world."
Stevie Nicks, right, mourned her bandmate Christine McVie, left, on social media: "My best friend in the whole world."

The ensuing decades would bring McVie and Fleetwood Mac a more visual profile with the advent of MTV, as videos from 1982’s “Mirage” album (“Hold Me,” “Gypsy”) and 1987’s “Tango in the Night” (“Seven Wonders,” “Little Lies,” “Everywhere”) introduced the band to a younger generation.

But McVie, despite her vocal and songwriting prowess, never sought the spotlight, always content to stay perched behind her keyboards on stage.

She told Rolling Stone that one of the hardest parts about fame was “being noticed if you don’t want to be noticed.” But, she added, while not an extrovert, “I try to really be kind to people when they talk to me. One shouldn’t mind, because after all, they’re paying you a terrific compliment.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Christine McVie dead: Fleetwood Mac singer, keyboardist dies at 79