LOS ANGELES—Phil Spector, the music producer who transformed rock music with his “Wall of Sound” method and who later was convicted of murder, has died. He was 81.
California state prison officials said he died Saturday of natural causes at a hospital.
Spector was convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson in 2003 at his castle-like mansion on the edge of Los Angeles. After a trial in 2009, he was sentenced to 19 years to life.
Clarkson, star of “Barbarian Queen” and other B-movies, was found shot to death in the foyer of Spector’s mansion in the hills overlooking Alhambra, a modest suburban town on the edge of Los Angeles.
Until the actress’s death, which Spector maintained was an “accidental suicide,” few residents even knew the mansion belonged to the reclusive producer, who spent his remaining years in a prison hospital east of Stockton.
Decades before, Spector had been hailed as a visionary for channeling Wagnerian ambition into the three-minute song, creating the “Wall of Sound” that merged spirited vocal harmonies with lavish orchestral arrangements to produce such pop monuments as “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Be My Baby,” and “He’s a Rebel.”
Tom Wolfe declared him the “first tycoon of teen.” Bruce Springsteen and Brian Wilson openly replicated his grandiose recording techniques and wide-eyed romanticism, and John Lennon called him “the greatest record producer ever.”
The secret to his sound: an overdubbed onslaught of instruments, vocals, and sound effects that changed the way pop records were recorded. He called the result, “Little symphonies for the kids.”
By his mid-20s his “little symphonies” had resulted in nearly two dozen hit singles and made him a millionaire. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” the operatic Righteous Brothers ballad which topped the charts in 1965, has been tabulated as the song most played on radio and television—counting the many cover versions—in the 20th century.
Years of stories of his waving guns at recording artists in the studio and threatening women would come back to haunt him after Clarkson’s death.
According to witnesses, she had agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to accompany him home from the Sunset Strip’s House of Blues in West Hollywood, where she worked Shortly after their arrival in Alhambra in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 3, 2003, a chauffeur reported Spector came out of the house holding a gun, blood on his hands, and told him, “I think I killed somebody.”
He would later tell friends Clarkson had shot herself. The case was fraught with mystery, and it took authorities a year to file charges. In the meantime, Spector remained free on $1 million bail.
When he was finally indicted for murder, he lashed out at authorities, angrily telling reporters: “The actions of the Hitler-like DA and his storm trooper henchmen are reprehensible, unconscionable, and despicable.”
By the mid-1970s, Spector had largely retreated from the music business. He would emerge occasionally to work on special projects, including Leonard Cohen’s album, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” and The Ramones’ “End of the Century.” Both were marred by reports of Spector’s instability.
In 1973, Lennon worked on an album of rock ‘n roll oldies with Spector, only to have Spector disappear with the tapes. The finished work, “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” didn’t come out until 1975.
In 1982 Spector married Janis Lynn Zavala and the couple had twins, Nicole and Phillip Jr. The boy died at age 10 of leukemia.
Six months before his first murder trial began, Spector married Rachelle Short, a 26-year-old singer and actress who accompanied him to court every day. He filed for divorce in 2016.
In a 2005 court deposition, he testified that he had been on medication for manic depression for eight years.
“No sleep, depression, mood changes, mood swings, hard to live with, hard to concentrate, just hard—a hard time getting through life,” he said. “I’ve been called a genius and I think a genius is not there all the time and has borderline insanity.”