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Phil Spector (1939–2021), influential record producer convicted of murder

by Linnea Crowther

Phil Spector was a record producer who worked with artists including the Beatles and Ike & Tina Turner. At the time of his death, he was serving a prison sentence of 19 years to life for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson.

Influential career

Spector became a superstar record producer of the 1960s, creating hit after hit on the pop charts. Among the songs produced by Spector in this period were “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, “Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers, and “River Deep Mountain High” for Ike & Tina Turner. Spector’s unmistakable signature was the “wall of sound,” a technique that layered many instruments in orchestral arrangements to create rich, lush backdrops for vocals.

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It was a sound that was highly influential, dominating the pop charts of the day and inspiring even artists who didn’t work with Spector. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was among those who applied Spector’s principles to his own music, and John Lennon (1940–1980) called him “the greatest record producer ever.” Lennon would go on to work with Spector, both as a solo artist — Spector produced his single “Instant Karma!” — and with the Beatles. Their swan song, 1970’s “Let it Be,” was produced by Spector, though Paul McCartney notoriously disliked the producer’s treatment of their material. Spector later produced music for artists including Leonard Cohen (1934–2016), Yoko Ono, and the Ramones.

Convicted murderer

In 1968, Spector was married to Ronnie (Bennett) Spector, lead singer of the Ronettes. She later alleged that during their brief marriage, he subjected her to torment, telling Vice, “I was in prison when I was in that mansion.” Spector’s sons also spoke out about their treatment by their father, alleging that he kept them captive and that they were sexually abused under his care. These were the beginnings of a pattern of monstrous behavior that culminated in 2003, when Spector brought actress Lana Clarkson to his home after an evening out. He later emerged with a gun in his hand and told his chauffeur, “I think I killed somebody.” Clarkson was found dead in Spector’s mansion.

Despite his statement at the time of Clarkson’s death, Spector’s defense at his 2007 trial for the murder of Clarkson was that she had killed herself. This trial was declared a mistrial due to a hung jury, but a new trial was opened in 2008. In 2009, Spector was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 19 years to life. At the time of his death, he was imprisoned in the California correctional system.

Full obituary: The New York Times

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