Phil Spector, Legendary Producer And Killer, Dead At 81

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LOS ANGELES, CA — Legendary record producer and convicted murderer Phil Spector died Saturday weeks after contracting COVID-19 in a California prison. He was 81.

He produced such early 1960s hits as "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'," "Unchained Melody," "Spanish Harlem," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Then He Kissed Me," "Be My Baby," "I Love How You Love Me," "He's a Rebel," "Only Love Can Break a Heart," the Beatles' final album, "Let It Be," and George Harrison's debut solo album, "All Things Must Pass," among scores of other recordings.

Spector, the production genius behind some of the biggest hits of the 60s and 70s, was serving a 19 years-to-life sentence for second-degree murder. The gun-toting music mogul, notorious for abusive relationships with women, was convicted for the 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson in Spector's Alhambra home. Over the course of two trials, he maintained his innocence, claiming Clarkson died of an “accidental suicide.” Spector died at an outside hospital Saturday night of natural causes, prison officials announced Sunday.

He had been diagnosed with COVID-19 several weeks ago and was previously hospitalized before returning to the California Health Care Facility, which is a prison for inmates with medical or mental health conditions, according to TMZ.

DELANO, CA - JUNE 5: In this handout photo provided be the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), inmate Phillip Spector poses for his mugshot photo on June 5, 2009 at North Kern State Prison in Delano, California. Spector was received by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from Los Angeles County with a 19-year sentence for second-degree murder for the February 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson. He is currently at North Kern State Prison, a reception center in Kern County. The reception center process is used to make housing determinations. (Photo by CDCR via Getty Images)
DELANO, CA - JUNE 5: In this handout photo provided be the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), inmate Phillip Spector poses for his mugshot photo on June 5, 2009 at North Kern State Prison in Delano, California. Spector was received by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from Los Angeles County with a 19-year sentence for second-degree murder for the February 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson. He is currently at North Kern State Prison, a reception center in Kern County. The reception center process is used to make housing determinations. (Photo by CDCR via Getty Images)

Spector was pronounced dead at 6:35 p.m. His official cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner in the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office.

He had been admitted to the prison from Los Angeles County on June 5, 2009, to serve 19 years to life for shooting Clarkson, 40, to death in the foyer of his castle-like Alhambra mansion on Feb. 3, 2003.

ALHAMBRA, CA - FEBRUARY 3: Aerial view of record producer Phil Spector's hill top mansion, Pyrenes Castle, taken February 3, 2003 in Alhambra, California. Spector was arrested February 3, 2003 in connection with the shooting of a woman at his mansion. (Photo by Mel Bouzad/Getty Images)
ALHAMBRA, CA - FEBRUARY 3: Aerial view of record producer Phil Spector's hill top mansion, Pyrenes Castle, taken February 3, 2003 in Alhambra, California. Spector was arrested February 3, 2003 in connection with the shooting of a woman at his mansion. (Photo by Mel Bouzad/Getty Images)

The two had met hours earlier at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, where she had recently begun working as a VIP hostess. Clarkson, who was best known for her starring role in the 1985 Roger Corman cult hit "Barbarian Queen," had bit parts on dozens of television shows and in a few well-known movies, such as 1982's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

He was tried for Clarkson's murder in 2007, but the jury in that case deadlocked 10-2 in favor of conviction. He was convicted at the retrial two years later.

FILE - In this May 29, 2009 file photo, music producer Phil Spector sits in a courtroom for his sentencing in Los Angeles. Spector, the eccentric and revolutionary music producer who transformed rock music with his “Wall of Sound” method and who was later convicted of murder, died Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, at age 81. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool, File)
FILE - In this May 29, 2009 file photo, music producer Phil Spector sits in a courtroom for his sentencing in Los Angeles. Spector, the eccentric and revolutionary music producer who transformed rock music with his “Wall of Sound” method and who was later convicted of murder, died Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, at age 81. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool, File)

Born and raised in the Bronx, and educated at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, Spector is best known as the creator of the "wall of sound," a full-bodied production technique that included lush, orchestral instrumentation. He was the rare self-conscious artist in rock’s early years and cultivated an image of mystery and power with his dark shades and impassive expression.

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.”

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Charlie WATTS and Keith RICHARDS and Brian JONES and Mick JAGGER and Gene PITNEY and Phil SPECTOR and ROLLING STONES and Bill WYMAN; L-R (back): Phil Spector, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, (front):Gene Pitney - posed, group shot, holding drinks (Photo by RB/Redferns)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Charlie WATTS and Keith RICHARDS and Brian JONES and Mick JAGGER and Gene PITNEY and Phil SPECTOR and ROLLING STONES and Bill WYMAN; L-R (back): Phil Spector, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, (front):Gene Pitney - posed, group shot, holding drinks (Photo by RB/Redferns)

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.

LOS ANGELES, CA - CIRCA 1965: Music Producer Phil Spector poses during photo session in Los Angeles, California, circa 1965.(Photo by Barry Oliver/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - CIRCA 1965: Music Producer Phil Spector poses during photo session in Los Angeles, California, circa 1965.(Photo by Barry Oliver/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

But thanks in part to the arrival of the Beatles, his chart success would soon fade. When “River Deep-Mountain High,” an aptly-named 1966 release that featured Tina Turner, failed to catch on, Spector shut down his record label and withdrew from the business for three years. He would go on to produce the Beatles and Lennon among others, but he was now serving the artists, instead of the other way around.

In 1969, Spector was called in to salvage the Beatles’ “Let It Be” album, a troubled “back to basics” production marked by dissension within the band. Although Lennon praised Spector’s work, bandmate Paul McCartney was enraged, especially when Spector added strings and a choir to McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road.” Years later, McCartney would oversee a remastered “Let it Be,” removing Spector’s contributions.

A documentary of the making of Lennon’s 1971 “Imagine” album showed the ex-Beatle clearly in charge, prodding Spector over a backing vocal, a line none of Spector’s early artists would have dared cross.

Spector had a notorious dark side, including a fondness for guns. Five women testified in the retrial that Spector had threatened them with guns at various times over several decades in order to keep them from leaving his home.

The volume, and violence, of Spector’s music reflected a dark side he could barely contain even at his peak. He was imperious, temperamental and dangerous, remembered bitterly by Darlene Love, Ronnie Spector and others who worked with him.

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.”

As a defendant, his eccentricity took center stage. He would arrive in court for pretrial hearings in theatrical outfits, usually featuring high-heeled boots, frock coats and wildly styled wigs. He arrived at one hearing in a chauffeur-driven stretch Hummer.

Once the 2007 trial began, however, he toned down his attire. It ended in a 10-2 deadlock leaning toward conviction. His defense had argued that the actress, despondent about her fading career, shot herself through the mouth. A retrial got underway in October 2008.

Harvey Phillip Spector, in his mid-60s when he was charged with murder, had been born on Dec. 26, 1939, in New York City. Bernard Spector, his father, was an ironworker. His mother, Bertha, was a seamstress. In 1947, Spector’s father committed suicide because of family indebtedness, an event that would shape his son’s life in many ways.

Four years later, Spector’s mother moved the family to Los Angeles, where Phil attended Fairfax High School, located in a largely Jewish neighborhood on the edge of Hollywood. For decades the school has been a source of future musical talent. At Fairfax, Spector performed in talent shows and formed a group called the Teddy Bears with friends.

UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1959: Photo of Phil Spector, The Teddy Bears, Los Angeles CA 1959. Left to right, Phil Spector, Carol Connors, Marshall Leib. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1959: Photo of Phil Spector, The Teddy Bears, Los Angeles CA 1959. Left to right, Phil Spector, Carol Connors, Marshall Leib. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

He was reserved and insecure, but his musical abilities were obvious. He had perfect pitch and easily learned to play several instruments. He was just 17 when his group recorded its first hit single, a romantic ballad written and produced by Spector that would become a pop classic: “To Know Him is to Love Him,” was inspired by the inscription on his father’s tombstone.

Associated Press, City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on the Los Angeles Patch