Ms. Cruise’s whispery “white angel” voice was, in essence, a character she created for Lynch and Badalamenti for the song “Mysteries of Love.” When the director couldn’t license “Song to the Siren” by This Mortal Coil for his 1986 film “Blue Velvet,” he jotted down his own ethereal lyrics on a napkin and charged Badalamenti with finding a vocalist.
Badalamenti and Ms. Cruise had met years earlier in a country-themed musical he wrote for a production in the East Village.
“I was a chorus girl with a big skirt and a big wig, singing way too loud,” she recalled in a 1990 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.
He asked her for referrals, “but he didn’t like any of the singers I recommended. He wanted dreamy and romantic. I said, ‘Let me do it.’ ”
“Mysteries of Love” accompanied the innocent courtship between Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) and Sandy (Laura Dern) amid the dark depravity of “Blue Velvet,” and it crystallized a musical aesthetic that Lynch would maintain for years. He liked Ms. Cruise’s voice so much that he signed a record contract with her and produced her 1989 album “Floating Into the Night.”
“David doesn’t know how to talk in musical terms, so he talked to me like he was directing a film,” Ms. Cruise told the Los Angeles Times when the album came out. “He’d say things like, ‘Really sad, Julee, make it just rip your heart out!’ Or, ‘You’re singing into a void and feel sad but not hopeless.’ His music is different from his films. He’s much more tender and intimate in his music — it’s as if he’s whispering a secret to you in his songs.”
Clare Nina Norelli, author of the book “Soundtrack From Twin Peaks,” told the Guardian in 2017, “Julee Cruise was a muse figure in that collaboration. There’s always a duality in [Lynch’s] films and she was a living embodiment of that Lynchian innocence.”
Ms. Cruise was, by nature, a Broadway belter. But she took Lynch’s lyrics and direction and, carried by the gentle synthesizer rivers and doo-wop aesthetic of Badalamenti’s music, became an uber-earnest pixie who symbolized Lynch’s obsession with the pop art from his childhood.
In his review of the album, The Washington Post’s Joe Brown described her voice as that “of a chiffon-draped ghost of a girl group” and said it was “most beguiling when heard late at night, alone or not.”
“Floating Into the Night” mostly evaporated upon release in 1989, and Ms. Cruise resumed waiting tables. Then Lynch used an instrumental of the song “Falling” as the theme for “Twin Peaks” in 1990 and cast her in the pilot as a singer in the central roadhouse bar — and she became famous. “Falling” went to No. 11 on the Billboard chart, and the album penetrated the Top 100.
Among the many fans was David Bowie, who “would put ‘Floating Into the Night’ on almost every night as ‘dinner music,’” Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, tweeted this week. “A staple.”
Three songs featuring Ms. Cruise were included on the 1990 “Twin Peaks” soundtrack album, which went to No. 22 on the Billboard chart and was a hit around the world. When Sinead O’Connor dropped out of “Saturday Night Live” in May 1990 because of opposition to the episode’s host — Andrew Dice Clay — Ms. Cruise was invited to sub and performed “Falling.”
“The music was strange,” Ms. Cruise said on The Red Room Podcast in 2018. “It wasn’t ’50s, and it wasn’t ’90s. And what was it? You know, it was something really cool and different.”
Her second album with Lynch and Badalamenti, “The Voice of Love” (1993), was a flop much like the attendant “Twin Peaks” prequel, “Fire Walk With Me.”
“Second album syndrome is the worst,” Ms. Cruise said in 2018. “L.A. is a lot like London. You know, they get sick of things real quick, and they got sick of ‘Twin Peaks’ real quick. And everyone ran.”
She joined the B52s, replacing Cindy Wilson as lead singer in 1992 and 1993. Twenty years later she released a new album, “The Art of Being a Girl,” which departed from the dream pop sound and showcased her more full-bodied warble, as did “My Secret Life” in 2011.
A trained actress, she played Petra in Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” in Wichita in the early 1980s, and Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical “Beehive.” In 2003, she played Andy Warhol and several other characters in the musical “Radiant Baby” in New York.
Her fame was forever confined to the Lynch projects, but those wispy songs had a major effect on several artists. Ms. Cruise could hear her influence reflected in Lana Del Rey and other singers, telling Rolling Stone in 2014: “They sing like sexy baby girls.”
Julee Ann Cruise was born Dec. 1, 1956, in Creston, Iowa. Her father was a dentist and an amateur pilot.
She majored in French horn performance at Drake University in Des Moines. After graduating, she acted in children’s theater in Minneapolis. She moved to New York around 1983 and studied acting with William H. Macy.
Ms. Cruise said her Lynch angel character was all musical theater. Her true personality was spunky, earthy and self-deprecating. She had doubts about the first album, “Floating in the Night,” and remembered taking it home for Christmas “and everyone in my family hated it,” she said in 2014. “They were like, ‘What are you singing about?’ One of my lawyers at the time said, ‘This is a novelty.’ I said, ‘Like Tiny Tim?’”
She was uncomfortable with the onslaught of celebrity and with public performance — she would often vomit before taking the stage. She had to contend with stalkers and hated when “Twin Peaks” fans told her she was the soundtrack of their life.
“I don’t want that responsibility,” she told Pitchfork in 2018.
She suffered from lupus for decades, and consequently lost her hair and “had the bones of an 85-year-old woman at 33,” she said. She also battled “depression and alcohol and drug addiction,” her husband told NPR.
Survivors include Grinnan, her husband since 1988 and editor in chief of the nonprofit Guideposts; and a sister.
Like her father, Ms. Cruise had a pilot’s license.
“My dad used to take us up to the Arctic Circle in his plane when I was little,” she told Pitchfork. “He died when he was 51. That night he passed, I flew by myself up to Minneapolis in my Piper Cub that Dad gave me. We have our own great graveyard there.”