Revolutionary music producer Phil Spector has died from COVID-19 related complications at the age of 81.
Spector was diagnosed with COVID four weeks ago and was transferred from his prison cell at California Health Care Facility in Stockton, where he was serving a 19 years-to-life sentence for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson, to a hospital.
He recovered enough to return to jail but he relapsed and struggled with breathing and returned to a hospital where he died Saturday, as per TMZ.
The California Department of Corrections confirmed his passing and he was pronounced dead of natural causes at 6.35pm Saturday.
A medical examiner will determine his exact cause of death.
Music producer Phil Spector died Satruday from COVID-19 related complications at the age of 81. Pictured in court in February 2004 in California
Spector was diagnosed with COVID four weeks ago and was transferred from his prison cell at California Health Care Facility, where he was serving a 19 years-to-life sentence for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson, to a hospital. He recovered enough to return to jail but he relapsed and struggled with breathing and returned to a hospital where he died Saturday. Spector pictured in Los Angeles court in May 2005
The famed musician, born in the Bronx of New York City, developed the Wall of Sound a technique of that has a roaring effect, dubbed the ‘Wagnerian approach to rock ‘n’ roll,’ that was popular in the ’60s.
This was the first time the recording studio was used as an instrument itself. It works by having reverberating instruments and large ensembles play in unison to create a fuller, richer tone and nearly drown out vocals.
Spector 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.’
Spector pictured in this mugshot dated November 19, 2019
Though musically he was often praised as a genius, he suffered from depression, drug and alcohol dependency and admitted to battling personal demons.
Spector was eight years old when his father killed himself and his mother moved their family to Los Angeles. He attended Fairfax High in 1954, where alumni included songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who would play an important role in his early career, according to Variety.
He wrote, co-wrote and produced acts for the likes of the Ronettes, the Crystals, and Ike & Tina Turner.
He started his career by producing his first hit ‘To Know Him is To Love Him’ for his vocal trio the Teddy Bears when he was still in high school. It went to the top of the Billboard 100 in 1958.
From there his career skyrocketed and he produced hits including ‘Be My Baby’ by the Ronnettes and ‘He’s a Rebel’ by The Crystals.
In 1970 he produced the Beatles’ album Let It Be and several solo records for John Lennon and George Harrison.
Ronnie Spector of the vocal trio The Ronettes with Phil Spector while recording in Los Angeles, California at Gold Star Studios in 1963. Ronnie and Phil were married from 1968 to 1974
Spector pictured center with Beatles member George Harrison (right) listening to a master of his first solo album recording, which Spector produced, above in October 1970
By the 70s he had produced 18 US Top 10 singles for various artists including Leonard Cohen, and the Ramones.
Some of his top songs include ‘The Long and Winding Road’ by the Beatles in 1970 and ‘My Sweet Lord’ by George Harrison in 1970.
Spector’s life took a darkening path in the late 70s onward.
As a freelancer he produced Leonard Cohen’s 1977 album ‘Death of a Ladies’ man’ and during sessions he reportedly drew out a gun and pointed it at Cohen’s chest and said ‘I love you Leonard’ to which he replied, ‘I hope so, Phil.’
His last major production was The Ramones’ 1980 album ‘End of the Century.’
Spector pictured seated with The Ronettes in the 1960s
Phil Spector (in sunglasses) pictured with the Rolling Stones
Rumors emerged that the band was held hostage in the studio by Spector with a gun during recording sessions.
Three decades later the band’s drummer Marky Ramone said: ‘The guns were there but he had a license to carry. We could have left at any time.’
Spector did little work after the early 80s and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
In 2009, after three decades in semi-retirement, he was convicted of Clarkson’s murder.
Lana Clarkson (right) suffered a single gun-shot to the mouth and her teeth were found scattered over the carpet. Spector (right) said he death was an accident but he was eventually found guilty of her murder in 2009
Where the murder took place: Clarkson was found dead in Phil Spector’s hill top mansion called the ‘Pyrenees Castle’. The Southern France -styled gated chateau sits on two-and-a-half acres of land in Alhambra, California
In February 2003 actress Lana Clarkson was killed at Spector’s mansion in Alhambra, California.
The 40-year-old actress who starred in the cult film ‘Barbarian Queen’ was found dead, slumped in a chair suffering a single gunshot wound to the mouth with her broken teeth scattered across the carpet.
Spector told Esquire Magazine in July 2003 that her death was an ‘accidental suicide’ and she ‘kissed the gun.’
In an emergency call from Spector’s home, the music virtuoso can be heard saying ‘I think I killed someone’.
His driver, Adriano de Souza, says he saw Spector emerge from the back of the home clutching a snub-nosed pistol, shortly after making the call.
Spector and his attorney, Roger Rosen, right, leave Los Angeles Superior Court for a break during the start of jury selection in Spectors’ murder trial on March 19, 2007
An HBO docudrama has been made on the Clarkson case with Al Pacino starring as Spector
In both of his trials – the first ending in a mistrial – jurors were taken to examine the murder scene.
Spector was eventually convicted of her murder in 2009. He was supposed to be eligible for parole in 2024.
An HBO docudrama has been made on the Clarkson case with Al Pacino starring as Spector.
Spector has been married twice. He was married to Ronnie Spector, who fronted the girl group the Ronettes, from 1968 to 1974, and married his second wife Rachelle Short, in 2006.
He is survived by his wife Rachelle, and his three children adopted during his marriage to Ronnie Spector and a daughter by his ex-girlfriend Janis Zavala.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2003 he admitted to battling with inner demons.
‘I’m probably relatively insane. I’m my own worst enemy,’ he said.
Phil Spector: How the musical genius skyrocketed to fame in his youth, became a prolific producer, and ended up jailed for murder
Phil Spector, the eccentric and revolutionary music producer who transformed rock music with his Wall of Sound method and who later was convicted of murder, has died. He was 81.
Spector had been hailed as a visionary for channeling Wagnerian ambition into the three-minute song, creating the ‘Wall of Sound’ that merged spirited vocal harmonies with lavish orchestral arrangements to produce such pop monuments as ‘Da Doo Ron Ron,’ ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘He’s a Rebel.’
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.
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 worked on George Harrison’s acclaimed post-Beatles triple album, ‘All Things Must Pass,’ co-produced Lennon’s ‘Imagine,’ and the less successful ‘Some Time in New York City,’ which included Spector’s picture over a caption that read, ‘To Know Him is to Love Him.’
Spector also had a memorable film role, a cameo as a drug dealer in ‘Easy Rider.’ The producer himself was played by Al Pacino in a 2013 HBO movie.
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.
Years of stories of his waving guns at recording artists in the studio and threatening women would come back to haunt him after Clarkson´s death.
According to witnesses she had agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to accompany him home from the Sunset Strip´s House of Blues in West Hollywood, where she worked Shortly after their arrival in Alhambra in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 3, 2003, a chauffeur reported Spector came out of the house holding a gun, blood on his hands, and told him, ‘I think I killed somebody.’
He would later tell friends Clarkson had shot herself. The case was fraught with mystery, and it took authorities a year to file charges. In the meantime, Spector remained free on $1 million bail.
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’s borough of the Bronx. 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.
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.
A short, skinny kid with big dreams and growing demons, Spector went on to attend the University of California, Los Angeles for a year before dropping out to return to New York. He briefly considered becoming a French interpreter at the United Nations before falling in with the musicians at New York’s celebrated Brill Building. The Broadway edifice was then at the heart of popular music´s Tin Pan Alley, where writers, composers, singers and musicians turned out hit songs.
He began working with star composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had met at Fairfax High a few years before Spector arrived. Ultimately, he found his niche in producing. During this period he also co-wrote the hit song, ‘Spanish Harlem, with Ben E. King, and played lead guitar on the Drifters’ ‘On Broadway.’
‘I had come back to New York from California where there were all these green lawns and trees, and there was just this poverty and decay in Harlem,’ he would recall later. ‘The song was an expression of hope and faith in the young people of Harlem … that there would be better times ahead.’
For a time he had his own production company, Philles Records, with partner Lester Silles, where he developed his signature sound. He assembled such respected studio musicians as arranger Jack Nitzsche, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, pianist Leon Russell and drummer Hal Blaine, and gave early breaks to Glen Campbell, Sonny Bono and Bono’s future wife, Cher.
In the early 1960s, he had hit after hit and one notable flop: the album ‘A Christmas Gift to You,’ released, tragically, on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated, the worst possible time for such a joyous record. ‘A Christmas Gif’ featuring the Ronettes singing ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and Love’s version of ‘White Christmas,’ is now considered a classic and a perennial radio favorite during the holiday season.
Spector’s domestic life, along with his career, eventually came apart. After his first marriage, to Annette Merar, broke up, Ronettes leader singer Ronnie Bennett became his girlfriend and muse. He married her in 1968 and they adopted three children. But 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.
When the Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, Spector sent along his congratulations. But in an acceptance speech by his ex-wife, she never mentioned him while thanking numerous other people.
Darlene Love also feuded with him, accusing Spector of failing to credit her for her vocals on ‘He’s a Rebel’ and other songs, but she did praise him when inducted into the Hall.
Spector himself became a Hall member in 1989. As his marriages deteriorated, recording artists also began to quit working with Spector and musical styles passed him by.
He preferred singles to albums, calling the latter, ‘Two hits and 10 pieces of junk.’ He initially refused to record his music in multichannel stereo, claiming the process damaged the sound. A Spector box set retrospective was called ‘Back to Mono.’
By the mid-1970s, Spector 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.” Both were marred by reports of Spector´s instability.
In 1973, Lennon worked on an album of rock `n roll oldies with Spector, only to have Spector disappear with the tapes. The finished work, “Rock `n´ Roll,” didn´t come out until 1975.
In 1982 Spector married Janis Lynn Zavala and the couple had twins, Nicole and Phillip Jr. The boy died at age 10 of leukemia.
Six months before his first murder trial began, Spector married Rachelle Short, a 26-year-old singer and actress who accompanied him to court every day. He filed for divorce in 2016.
In a 2005 court deposition, he testified that he had been on medication for manic depression for eight years.
“No sleep, depression, mood changes, mood swings, hard to live with, hard to concentrate, just hard – a hard time getting through life,” he said. “I´ve been called a genius and I think a genius is not there all the time and has borderline insanity.”
Linda Deutsch is a retired special correspondent for The Associated Press. The Spector murder trial was one of many sensational cases she covered during her 48-year career as a Los Angeles-based trial reporter.