Willis died on Dec. 24 due to a cardiac arrest. Her partner, Prudence Fenton, announced Willis’ death on social media.
Despite not being able to read music or play an instrument, Willis became a celebrated songwriter, sharing a Grammy Award in 1986 for her work on the “Beverly Hills Cop” soundtrack. In 1987, a song she worked on for the Pet Shop Boys, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?,” reached No. 2 in the United States and the United Kingdom pop charts.
Willis was credited on a number of other major hits, including “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” by the 1970s band Earth, Wind & Fire. She was one of six songwriters credited on “I’ll Be There For You,” which was recorded by the American band The Rembrandts. Willis was principally responsible for the lyrics.
“As a white Jewish girl getting a break, you could not get better than Earth, Wind & Fire,” Willis told NPR in 2014. “And as I opened the door, they had just written the intro to ‘September.’ And I just thought, dear God, let this be what they want me to write because it was obviously the happiest-sounding song in the world.”
Willis was known for throwing lively parties and for the colorful style of her outfits and haircuts.