Phil Spector, pop producer convicted of murder, dies aged 81

Producer who revolutionised music in 1960s with his ‘wall of sound’ dies while serving sentence

Phil Spector, the music producer behind some of pop music’s biggest hits, has died aged 81 while serving a prison sentence for murder.

Media reports said Spector, who had been sentenced to 19 years to life for murdering the actor Lana Clarkson, died after being diagnosed with Covid-19 four weeks ago.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would only confirm he had died “of natural causes at 6.35pm on Saturday 16 January 2021, at an outside hospital”. It added: “His official cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner in the San Joaquin county sheriff’s office.”

Spector was famed for his “wall of sound” approach to recording music, producing 20 Top 40 hits between 1961 and 1965 and going on to work with the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers, and Ike and Tina Turner. He also influenced artists ranging from the Beach Boys to Bruce Springsteen.

He was transferred to hospital from his prison cell after his Covid diagnosis, according to the website TMZ.

Spector was convicted and sentenced in 2009 of murdering Clarkson six years earlier, after the actor was found shot dead in the foyer of his castle-like mansion on the edge of Los Angeles.

During an initially highly successful career, Spector had been hailed as a visionary for creating the wall of sound that merged vocal harmonies with orchestral arrangements to produce pop hits such as Da Doo Ron Ron, Be My Baby and He’s a Rebel.

Springsteen and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson replicated his recording techniques, and John Lennon called him “the greatest record producer ever”.

The secrets to his sound were an overdubbed onslaught of instruments, vocals and sound effects that changed the way pop songs were recorded. He called the result “little symphonies for the kids”.

By his mid-20s he had produced about two dozen hit singles, making him a millionaire. He would enjoy a deep association with the Beatles, producing their final album, Let It Be, and Lennon, producing his 1971 hit Imagine. Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

But stories of his eccentric and violent behaviour, including waving guns at recording artists in the studio, emerged after Clarkson’s death in 2003.

According to witnesses, Clarkson had agreed to accompany him home from the Sunset Strip’s House of Blues in West Hollywood, where she worked. Shortly after their arrival, a chauffeur reported that Spector had come out of the house holding a gun, blood on his hands, and told him: “I think I killed somebody.” Spector later claimed her death was an “accidental suicide”. The jury, however, unanimously agreed that he had murdered the actor.

Born in New York’s Bronx district, Spector married Annette Merar in 1963. After they broke up, he married Ronettes lead singer Ronnie Bennett in 1968 and they adopted three children. She divorced him after six years, claiming in a memoir that he held her prisoner in their mansion, where she said he kept a gold coffin in the basement and told her he would kill her and put her in it if she ever tried to leave him.

In 1982 he married Janis Lynn Zavala and the couple had twins. He later married Rachelle Short, a 26-year-old singer and actor, from whom he filed for divorce in 2016.

By the mid-1970s, he 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.


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

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