Phil Spector, convicted murderer and music producer, dead at 81

Phil Spector mugshot
(Image credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Phil Spector has died at the age of 81. His death was confirmed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"California Health Care Facility inmate Phillip Spector was pronounced deceased of natural causes at 6:35 p.m. on Saturday, January 16, 2021, at an outside hospital," said the Department in a statement. "His official cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner in the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office."

Spector produced multiple American Top 10 hits in the first half of the 1960s, his signature "Wall of Sound" bringing success to The Crystals, The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers, Ike & Tina Turner and more, and influencing a generation of artists including the Beach Boys, The Beatles, the Velvet Underground, Bruce Springsteen and The Ramones.

Increasingly reclusive, he all but vanished from the public eye in the second half of the decade, but returned at the behest of then-Beatles manager Allen Klein to work on John Lennon's Instant Karma. The success of the single resulted in an invitation to finish the Beatles' abandoned Let It Be project, and he later worked on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass and Concert For Bangladesh albums and on Lennon's Some Time In New York City.

Later in the 70s Spector produced Leonard Cohen's Death Of A Ladies Man and The Ramones' End Of The Century, but ultimately his life would be marked by drug and alcohol addiction, his legacy one of paranoia, cruelty and violence. 

In 1968 Spector married Veronica "Ronnie" Bennett, singer from The Ronettes, who famously fled Spector's LA mansion barefoot, where she'd been kept a virtual prisoner, in 1972. Spector had blocked the building's windows and bought a life-size dummy of himself to accompany her in the car during the rare occasions she was allowed out alone.

"I always thought that I could be on stage, but I did two songs in seven years and I never went on stage again," Ronnie told Classic Rock. "At least Tina Turner and Cher were working, they were out there. I was there in that musty old mansion." The couple were divorced in 1974. 

In 2009 Phil Spector was convicted of the second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson, who'd appeared in Barbarian Queen and Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the 1980s. Her body had been found in the foyer of Spector's mansion by Spector's chauffeur, Adriano De Souza, who called the emergency services after the producer emerged from his home with a gun. 

After an unsuccessful trial in 2007, when a jury failed to reach a decision, the 2009 jury took 30 hours of deliberation to reach their unanimous guilty verdict. Spector was sentenced to 19 years to life.

"Are you asking if I feel sorry for him? Not one whit," said Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson after the verdict was announced. "He's getting exactly what he deserves. It feels especially good that no other women are going to suffer at the hands of Phil Spector."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.