(CelebrityAccess) — Phil Spector, the eccentric and influential record producer who revolutionized modern music with his ‘wall of sound’ technique, and was later convicted of murder, died in prison. He was 80.
A statement from California prison officials said Spector died of apparent natural causes with an official cause of death pending a determination from the medical examiner in the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office.
Spector was imprisoned following his 2009 conviction in the murder of actress Lana Clarkson in his Los Angeles home in 2003. Clarkson, who had appeared in several B movies, met Spector at the House of Blues in Los Angeles and returned home to Spector’s Los Angeles mansion.
Several hours later, Spector’s limousine driver reported hearing a gunshot before encountering Spector holding a gun and stating “I think I shot her” according to an affidavit.
Spector later described Clarkson’s death as an ‘accidental suicide’ but was convicted for 2nd degree homicide in connection to her death in 2009 and sentenced to 19 years to life in prison.
Born in the Bronx in 1939, Spector began his career in 1958 as co-founder, guitarist, and vocalist of the Teddy Bears, and wrote the group’s number one single “To Know Him Is to Love Him.”
At 21, he became the youngest label owner in the U.S. with the launch of Philles Records, and quickly gained a reputation as a producer and songwriter for groups such as The Ronettes, The Beatles, and The Crystals, as he amassed a catalog of hits that include “Just Once in My Life” (number 9), “Unchained Melody” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” among numerous others.
However, as Spector progressed into the 1970s, his behavior became increasingly erratic, particularly after 1974 when he suffered a near-fatal car crash that left him with more than 700 stiches in his head after he flew through the window of his car. Stories from the period include Dee Dee Ramone’s claim that Spector pulled a gun on him after he tried to leave a recording session, although his fellow bandmate Marky Ramone later told NME that guns were present during the session, none were pointed at the band and that they were free to leave.
During the 1970s, his output became less of a sure thing as well, including his collaboration with Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen. Spector produced Cohen’s 1977 album Death of a Ladies’ Man replacing Cohen’s traditionally spare arrangements with full orchestra backing. The decision alienated many of Cohen’s fans and earned negative reviews from many critics, including Rolling Stone, who described the album as “Leonard Cohen’s Do-Wop Nightmare.”
However, Spector had some successes during the period as well, including the Ramones equally controversial End of the Century which also eschewed the band’s traditional garage noise for a more commercial friendly sound. While the album was not as popular with the band’s established fan base, it produced some of their best-selling hits including “Rock N’ Roll High School” and “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?”
During the 1980s and 1990s, Spector became largely inactive, with his final production to reach fruiting coming in 2003 when he produced two singles for Britpop band Starsailor’s 2003 release Silence Is Easy. One of the two tracks Spector collaborated on, “Silence is Easy” served as the album’s title track and cracked the top ten of the UK Singles Chart.
Spector won a Grammy for album of the year in 1971, for his production work on The Concert for Bangladesh, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
Spector was married three times. In 1963, he married Annette Merar, lead vocalist of the Spectors Three, a group he produced. He later began having an affair with Veronica Bennett, lead singer of the Ronettes, who he later married. She later alleged that he imprisoned her in their Los Angeles home and sabotaged her career by refusing to let her perform. They divorced in 1974 during which she ceded the rights to all future record earnings from the Ronettes music and forfeited custody of their three adopted children, which Bennett claims was because Spector had threatened to have her murdered.
In 2006, while awaiting trial, he married 26-year-old Rachelle Short, but the two divorced a decade later citing irreconcilable differences.