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No One Was Safe from Phil Spector

45 min read
The producer made countless contributions to music, but his ego overshadowed them all. Spector at the boards, circa 1970. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Spector at the boards, circa 1970. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images There were seven words that were used, ironically and once in a while sincerely, about Phil Spector from the start…
No One Was Safe from Phil Spector

The producer made countless contributions to music, but his ego overshadowed them all.

Spector at the boards, circa 1970.
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Spector at the boards, circa 1970.
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

There were seven words that were used, ironically and once in a while sincerely, about Phil Spector from the start of his career: “To know him is to love him.” They were the title of his first precocious hit. “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” by the Teddy Bears, was recorded when he was a 19-year-old L.A. wunderkind in an obscure Fairfax studio — and went to No. 1 on the national pop charts.

Within a few years, Phil Spector was a cultural icon, a flamboyant impresario with an impressive string of hit singles, each one a maelstrom of emotion sung by a woman. Strolling through the scene as a pop preeminence, dressed now like a gangster, now like a psychedelic leprechaun, Spector was memorably profiled by Tom Wolfe as “The First Tycoon of Teen,” and hung out with friends like Lenny Bruce, Dennis Hopper, and John Lennon.

And then for almost 30 years, he largely disappeared from public view, only to reappear, horrifyingly, as the murderer of an actress who was working as a hostess at an L.A. restaurant, whom he had lured back to his castle-like mansion in an obscure suburb in the early hours of the night. Sentenced to 19 years to life, Spector spent the rest of his days in prison. His death was reported by California prison authorities today. He had apparently contracted COVID in prison and had been contending with it for the past month.

HIs death ends a bizarre story of genius and mental illness. Stripped down to its essentials, it was also a story we know too well: the tale of the celebrity who uses his fame and money to get away with appalling behavior for far too many years. Spector had the dubious distinction of taking it further than anyone else — to sticking a gun into the face of a defenseless Lana Clarkson and pulling the trigger.

His fame came from a precocity not just in music, but an ability to envision a world around the corner, one in which baroque pop constructions — little teenage symphonies for the kids, he called them — would thrill a new monied class of teenagers. Spector sensed the need — and had the innate skills to create a new form of music to realize them.

His signature Wall of Sound consisted of one or two or three pianos, four or five or six guitars, as many bassists, drummers and percussionists, all playing together, precisely, and recorded with preternatural care to form a tsunami of aural effect. Over it, he took songs by some of the nation’s best songwriters and married them to the yearning, indelible voices of young singers. The result was an emotionalism on a scale that simply had never been conceived of before. “Spector’s real greatness is his ability to induce those incredible little moments of poignant longing in us,” Leonard Cohen once reflected.

It’s probably true to say that he expanded the sound of pop, and the very possibilities of the form, more radically than any other person in the years between the heyday of Sun Records and the rise of the Beatles. The results are not just familiar but seem like they’ve always been here: “She’s a Rebel” and “Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals; “Be My Baby” and “Walking in the Rain” by the Ronettes; a series of hits for the Righteous Brothers, including “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”; and then “River Deep — Mountain High,” an ambitious mini-epic he crafted for the voice of Tina Turner. They are a dim part of the cultural landscape now; at the time, they created a new center of gravity for the world of pop.

Spector was awkward and indrawn as a child — “a birdy guy, a twerp,” as a high-school friend described him; friends knew that highly volatile relationships with his mother and sister contributed to the darker side of his personality. From the start, he was a fabulist, a megalomaniac; he told his friends tall stories; he sometimes stalked his girlfriends, and treated professional collaborators with contempt.

At the same time, he was a true musician. The top-tier session players he worked with said he could have had a career as a professional jazz guitarist. He would stop a recording session if a singer was off pitch. He had a vast knowledge and affection for R&B by Black artists. Many of those he worked with recall him as a man of unending energy, zany humor, and enthusiasm, able to keep a large corps of session musicians engaged while putting them through the grueling processes that undergirded his productions.

And yet the darkness was always there to those who looked. The meanness, the lack of affect when it came to the feelings of others; the way he controlled women; the obsession with his looks and feelings of inadequacy; the emotional scab-picking, the jealousies, the arrant cruelties.

A few knew that the words “To Know Him Was to Love Him” came from a tombstone — his father’s tombstone, in fact. Fewer understood that his father’s death came far too early, when his son, then Harvey Spector of the Bronx, was just 9 years old, and that it came from the father’s own hand, leaving a broken and dysfunctional family behind.

Phil Spector’s parents were both from the families of Ukrainian immigrants; oddly, both sides of his family had an Ukrainian name that transliterated to Spector when they came to the U.S. It’s not clear if his mother and father were actually related; Spector once said they were first cousins, but that was in a conversation late in his life, when he would rattle on for hours saying all sorts of true things and not-so-true things.

He was born Harvey Philip Spector, with one l, on the day after Christmas, 1939, and grew up in the Bronx, at 1027 Manor Avenue. As a child, Spector was asthmatic, allergic to the sun, and dominated by an overprotective and utterly domineering mother. Why his father committed suicide is unknown. One morning he headed off to his job in Brooklyn, parked, and then ran a hose from the exhaust pipe to the interior of his running car. With the family in tatters, his mother eventually moved young Harvey and his sister, Sharon, to Los Angeles. She went to work as a seamstress. While it was here that Spector put himself on his road to fame, his early teen years were difficult. Spector was quite short, with a weak chin and a pronounced, almost absurd Bronx accent. (His voice was in a Stan Freberg or “I’m depraved on account I’m deprived!” vein.) He obsessed about his looks, particularly his hair. At some point he took on the name Phillip and began spelling it with two l’s. His mother insisted on calling him Harvey.

The family fought with a blistering toxicity. His mother would glare at female friends who visited; if young Phil was at a female classmate’s house, she’d call every 15 minutes, demanding he come home. Male friends would see a constant stream of bickering and even rococo incidents in which his mother might end up chasing the fleeing teenage boy through the house with a knife. “Bertha would say, ‘Your father killed himself because you were a bad child,’” a friend from high school is quoted in Mick Brown’s definitive biography, Tearing Down the Wall of Sound. “And then he would say, ‘Daddy killed himself because of you.’ Your mother tells you this, you attack back with that. They would just attack each other all the time. There’s a reason for everything, and with Phil the reason he’s the way he is is all to do with his immediate family.” Mark Ribowsky’s 1984 biography of Spector, He’s a Rebel, begins with an epigraph from Oedipus Rex.

Spector had a fun and ingratiating side, when he chose to turn it on. He played French horn in the school band, and at some point had the epiphany so many notable musicians of his era had when he started connecting with some of the new mysterious sounds coming out of the radio. He began to play guitar, specifically jazz guitar; his enthusiasm was such that he wrote to Downbeat magazine to defend the work of a local L.A. session guitarist, Barney Kessel. He eventually met Kessel, who became Spector’s in into the world of elite L.A. musicians. At the same time, he was experimenting with music with a trio of high-school friends: Marshall Leib, Harvey Goldstein, and Annette Kleinbard. The four began harmonizing together, with Spector instinctively taking charge.

Outside of his other spectacular talents, Spector seems to have had innate precocity when it came to figuring out how a record got made — not exactly a typical skill of teenagers at the time. With $40 from his bandmates, he took them to the Gold Star Studios, where they recorded a song called “Don’t You Worry My Little Pet.” He parlayed that into an agreement with a local record company to record a few more songs. For the B-side of “Pet” they sang another Spector tune and arrangement. The lyrics went:

To know, know, know himIs to love, love, love himAnd I do (and I do and I do) woo-woo (and I do and I do)

The A-side was ignored — but the B-side got played in Fargo, North Dakota. Then it started catching on in the Midwest. Dick Clark showcased it on American Bandstand, and then extended an invitation for the band to appear. Two months later, in December of 1958, “To Know Him Is to Love Him” became a No. 1 hit, a spot it held for three weeks. It apparently eventually sold 1.4 million copies.

It’s a great rock-and-roll story — but one with early shades of what would become a defining penumbral Spectorian morality running through it. Robowsky, in He’s a Rebel, talks to all of the principals of the song’s creation, and each has a sour tale to tell. Lew Bedell and Herb Newman, the partners of the label who had helped Spector make his record, discovered they’d created a monster:

“The kid became so haughty,” Bedell said. “Before the song was a hit, Phil used to come in and say ‘Anything doing today, Mr. Bedell?’ … Then, after it was a hit, he walks in and it’s ‘Hey, Lew, baby, we’re doin’ good.’ He starts calling Herb ‘Hey, you.’ You never saw such a complete change.”

Spector had his by-most-accounts unstable sister along as some sort of quasi manager; she alienated the other Teddy Bears thoroughly. Goldstein, who had chipped in for the initial recording and had named the group, couldn’t be in the studio the day “To Know Him” was recorded because of a stint in the Army Reserve. Spector, looking to split a payday three ways rather than four, kept him from coming to Philadelphia for the Bandstand appearance and tried to edge him out entirely. Goldstein got a lawyer and ended up getting royalties. Leib, who was Spector’s best friend and protector in high school, says Spector promised him shared royalties for his contributions to “To Know Him.” Those never came. Finally, Spector took his sister’s side as she increasingly terrorized Kleinbard; after Kleinbard got in a near-fatal car accident, Spector didn’t visit her in the hospital.

Ironically, Spector was absorbing his own lessons about the music business. He discovered, for example, that his income from having written, produced, and performed even a No. 1 song was minimal. The Teddy Bears didn’t have another hit. (Music-trivia fans will note that Kleinbard, under the name Carol Connors, would go on to become a successful songwriter on her own, and many years later would write the [highly marginal] lyrics to the theme from Rocky — and get an Oscar nomination.)

After that Spector hooked up with producers Lester Sill and Lee Hazelwood. (Among other things, they’d worked with Duane Eddy, in Arizona, on early influential rock and roll hits like “Rumble.”) He essayed some followup singles, including an instrumental credited to Phil Harvey, and then in a group he called the Spectors Three, but they didn’t go anywhere. What Spector did get from Sill was entrée to some top music-makers in New York. Indeed, he got a valuable opportunity and introduction to the killer songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who, having been mentored by Sill himself, had gone on to great success with songs like “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” — both big hits for Elvis Presley — and a string of other hits for the Coasters and other bands. Spector had the ability to make smart people wary — Leiber and Stoller thought he was shifty, and “a man on the make” — and yet ultimately he charmed some of the most sophisticated minds of the day with his wit, knowledge, and sparkling talents. He was soon sporting a cape and walking around with a briefcase. To some he looked like Don Knotts; to others, Jiminy Cricket.

But everyone could see he had a remarkable ability to look dispassionately at any song three ways and improve it, and that he had a remarkable feel for the intricacies and ineffabilities of recording. Soon he was part of Times Square’s roiling mix — just another eccentric in a Runyonesque world of song-pushers and other hustlers, one with his own way with a mot. (“My sister’s in an asylum, and she’s the sane one in the family.”) Doc Pomus, the writer of “Save the Last Dance for Me” and many other hits, who became a close friend, recalled, “Phil [would] pace the floor up and down. He kept looking at himself in a mirror and combing his hair with a brush. This went on and on and it was like a comedy act. Up and down, up and down. He was a very nervous kid, but he started getting friendly and after a while you got the feeling by what he said about music that there was a raw talent there.”

This was still the formative days of the music; there were no Beatles, Stones, or Motown. But innovative record men like Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, of Atlantic Records, were bringing a new sophistication to pop with acts like Ruth Brown, the Coasters, and the Drifters.

Soon, Spector had insinuated himself into their mix, carousing around Manhattan with the high-living Ertegun and other up-and-comers in the music biz. He also badgered Leiber and Stoller to let him write with them; the pair appreciated his talents but found his mannerisms and egotism off-putting. One evening, Spector finally succeeded in getting Leiber (the lyricist of the pair) alone, and the two began to work on a melody Spector had. The resulting song, “Spanish Harlem,” would go on to be a top-ten hit for Ben E. King, and remains a golden-oldie classic to this day.

A female songwriter friend recalled Spector from these years for Mick Brown: “He would comb his hair and be so nervous and worried, and talk about how attractive this friend was and how handsome that one was, and this friend got on the football team when he was in high school, and he was jealous because he didn’t get this girl or that girl. And I remember thinking, Well, he is short, he doesn’t have big bulging muscles or anything, but he’s witty and funny and he has a lot to offer. But I think he had a terrific rage and anger that he didn’t look like Tarzan. ”

He also grew familiar with a lineup of young and talented songwriters who were creating sophisticated, catchy melodies and urgent lyrics that attempted to capture the quotidian thoughts of kids. Among them were Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; Carole King and Gerry Goffin; Ellie Greenwich and Phil Barry; and Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. They are all considered part of the Brill Building song factory, though technically they worked down Broadway in another music-business building. The company was called Aldon, and was co-owned by Don Kirshner, who oversaw a lucrative publishing empire. Pomus and his partner, Mort Shuman, worked for the powerful publishing operation Hill & Range, which handled Elvis Presley’s songwriters.

With “Spanish Harlem” proof that “To Know Him Is to Love Him” was not a fluke, Spector took on some projects on which he was officially a producer, and had two more hits in short order: For Ray Peterson, who’d had a hit with the lachrymose “Tell Laura I Love Her,” he took a traditional song called “Corrina Corrina” and took it into the top ten with a light but effective string section — and did the same with the doo-wop-y rave-up “Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” for a singer named Curtis Lee. He was also sometimes a presence at momentous recording sessions, as on his brief but powerful guitar solo near the end of the Drifters’ dramatic “On Broadway.”

It was the beginning of the girl-group era, when just about everyone in this era would make money off the singers save for the so-called girls themselves: “Once a winning formula for a group had been identified,” writes Gillial Garr in She’s a Rebel, her history of women in rock and roll, “it was repeated in subsequent singles until the group stopped having hits. The group was then left to return to obscurity, while the production teams moved onto the next formula and the next group.” Spector worked initially with a New York female trio called the Crystals, and oversaw two quick hits for them: “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” and “Uptown,” a Mann-Weil song with a novel, if slightly condescending, lyric from the point of view of a woman who watches her presumably Black boyfriend living in the different worlds of downtown (where he’s a “little man”) and uptown (“where he can hold his head up high”). The song made it almost to the top ten.

Throughout all of this, Spector was also demonstrating that he could show New York a thing or two about the hustle. At one point, he bragged to a friend he was working full-time at three different companies — for Atlantic Records, for Don Kirshner, and for Hill & Range as well. This scheme eventually blew up in his face. Ertegun and Pomus aside, Spector eventually succeeded in alienating most of his contacts in the city, from collaborators he reneged on, mentors he double-crossed, and even office staff he treated with disrespect. For Hill & Range, for example, he was supposed to be auditioning potential groups for the company; that’s where he found the Crystals. The company severed ties with him when they found he’d taken the group for his own production plans, even taking legal control of the name. And in the midst of all of it he’d taken another position with a label called Liberty, accepting a $30,000 advance, and then walking away.

He was already creating a new label for himself and his friend Lester Sill in L.A.

Phil Spector was 21.

Two stories unfolded over the next five or six years. One was Spector’s growth and success as a producer. In a year he would be incredibly successful, and shortly after that would be virtually a household name — the first producer to sell records just on the strength of his brand. The other parallel story is about the recurring symptoms of a man uneasy in his skin and with a tendency to paranoia and megalomania.

Phil Spector and Lester Sill christened their label Philles — i.e., “Phil” plus “Les,” not “Phillies.” This was the formal beginning of the Phil Spector era. (Spector quickly took full possession of the label.) He came back to Los Angeles and fixated on Gold Star, the small studio where he had crafted “To Know Him Is to Love Him.” He began to assemble a corps of musicians who could help him achieve the increasingly ornate ambition he had for his next singles. Working with engineers Larry Levine and arranger Jack Nitzsche, he would work out of the tiny space and create more than a dozen top-40 hits.

The musicians were a large pool of session players, including guitarist Tommy Tedesco, bassist Carol Kaye, drummer Hal Blaine, and a few artists who went on to their own stardom such as keyboardist Leon Russell and guitarist Glen Campbell. They would play for Spector and then, as word of his productions got around, for people like Brian Wilson, who would adopt the studio and the players as his own and create the Beach Boys’ most sprawling works there. As the pop industry grew and evolved, the same players would be gathered in various formations to play on countless other hits by many other hits over the next decade and beyond. While they had no formal name, in the future they would be called the Wrecking Crew.

His first distinctive touch was collecting that mass of instruments: guitarists, drummers, keyboardists and percussion players to start, and then sometimes strings and woodwinds in the mix as well. Where today individual drums in a drum set can be given their own track, back then the instruments were recorded en masse via microphones placed strategically around the (tiny and cramped) studio. (The vocals could be recorded separately.) Stereo was available, even in the early ’60s, but all pop material was mixed back down to mono — a single track. Simply put, it was the job of the producer and engineer to record the mess of sound played by myriad instruments in a single room in a way that sounded good when the recording was played back over the single-speaker systems most kids listened to music on, whether in the car or on small record players at home.

The work to create the sound of each of the producer’s classic tracks was painstaking, sometimes taking Spector down long paths leading to sonic dead ends he had to thereupon retreat from. Drums, particularly, were his passion, and he worked doggedly to capture a sound that could burst out of the radio and buttress his songs. (One of his tricks: taking the cymbals away from the drummers.) Part of Spector’s strategy was to keep the virtuoso players he had assembled focused on uniform simple chords and playing them in unison.

The players marveled as he would blend a piano and a harpsichord sound, for example, together until the instruments were indistinguishable. Spector discovered a makeshift echo room at Gold Star, a small space with concrete walls; he could route the sound into it, and then mic the sound back to the recording board. All of this took time, which itself was another Spector innovation. At that point in the recording industry, songs were generally recorded in a matter of minutes, whole albums in a matter of hours.

The result was a lot of noise, by the recording standards of the time. To the finer ears in the industry, the Spector singles sometimes plainly sounded distorted (and masters would sometimes need to be sent back because the sound bounced the needles off the acetates). But something else was there as well. “Phil Spector had the ability to capture innocence,” said an arranger in New York, Artie Butler, “even when he had 40 guys pounding and scratchin’ and blowin’ their brains out.”

And Spector finally had the control he wanted. He instinctively knew how to brand his own name onto his work; he became the star, not the actual artists. He knew how to procure the songs, manipulate the production knobs, work the distribution and production channels, and even game the publishing system.The artists were almost disposable. He’d come back from New York with a perfect Crystals follow-up single, “He’s a Rebel,” written by Gene Pitney. In L.A. he had everything he needed except the actual Crystals, so he recorded the song with a local group called the Blossoms, with a lead singer named Darlene Wright, and called them the Crystals. When the song became a hit, the original Crystals were on tour — and didn’t know the song to play it for expectant audiences. Artists were expendable and, if needed, re-nameable as well. (Wright discovered she’d been rechristened Darlene Love.)

The result, on record, was something plainly different from the other manifestations of the girl groups. In a Spector recording, the artists themselves were disposable, but their voices were not. Spector’s women were recorded with a power unmatched at the time; the emotions that burst out of the record were correspondingly earthshaking. This effect was heightened by another Spector trick, which was to allow the backing vocals in the chorus to hit with their own unmistakable drama, giving them an unstoppable, implacable momentum of their own.

The hits came in an 18-month flurry. “He’s a Rebel” was not the first girl-group hit, but it was a clarion call. None of Spector’s famous songs were particularly feminist in nature. One notorious track — written by Carole King and her then-husband Gerry Goffin, no less — was unironically called “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).” But the force of the women’s voices was undeniable; given the limited opportunities afforded women in the industry at the time, the platform Spector gave them was important. The Crystals hit again with “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” which has a unique chaotic sound in the production, and then the irresistible and rumbling “Da Doo Ron Ron,” Spector’s most unbridled cacophony yet, which went to No. 3 on the pop charts.

By this time Spector had met Veronica Bennett, the dynamic leader of a trio of women singers called the Ronettes. “Be My Baby” was perhaps Spector’s most profound melding of a voice and a production. (Bennett did all the backing vocals as well.) Spector gave Bennett a baroque, titanic setting — a mess of sound fronted by a thunderous drum recording and a bank of manic castanets. “Be My Baby” — “one of the greatest songs ever recorded,” according to Keith Richards — spent three weeks at No. 2, kept out of the top spot by, of all things, “Sugar Shack,” by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs.

A song like “Be My Baby” penetrated the culture in other ways, as artists like Brian Wilson would testify:

“I was driving down the street listening to the radio and the DJ came on and announced a new song [recalled Wilson in his autobiography]. It just knocked me out. I think I said something out loud, even though I was the only one in the car. I said, ‘What in the heck?’ and then I pulled over to the side of the road and listened to the rest of the record so I could hear the chorus again. I tried to figure out how all the instruments were working.”

Later he recalled being at a party at the home of Three Dog Night’s Danny Hutton. “In Danny’s house that day,” he wrote, “when I put ‘Be My Baby’ on the record player, I couldn’t stop listening to the intro. Those drums were so huge the way that Phil Spector did them. I played the beginning ten times until everyone in the room told me to stop, and then I played it ten more times.” The sounds on Spector records would spur Wilson to great creativity on Beach Boys works like “Good Vibrations” and the album Pet Sounds, and would in turn spur the competitiveness and creativity of the Beatles.

Spector almost always added his name to the credits with the songwriting teams he worked with — indeed, his name often came first. He unquestionably worked with the songwriters on many of his hits, but this practice remains in itself somewhat dubious; it’s part of the producer’s job to shape the songs. Because he knew, the A-side and the B-side both got equal publishing royalties, no matter that everyone who bought the thing was interested only in the side with the hit. Spector was also almost always credited as a co-writer of the song on the B-side as well. Once he got established, the songs on the B-side disappeared, replaced by instrumentals. He’d get one of his assistants to go into the studio and craft an aimless tune. (“If it starts sounding good, stop.”) Spector would then take the track and use that, and credit himself as the writer, instead of an actual song by a songwriter, as the B-side to the single, earning him another full songwriting royalty for the single. That’s why you’ll see goofy Spector B-side titles like “Flip and Nitty” or even “Dr. Kaplan’s Office.” (There’s an album of these tunes available on streaming services, credited to the Phil Spector Orchestra.)

So if “Be My Baby” sold (let’s say) a million copies, and if the royalty rate at the time was five cents per song per record sold, Mann and Weil’s official royalties might be $17,000 each for composing the song that actually generated the sales, which they would then split with Don Kirshner, whom they worked for. Spector’s would have been four times as much, or $65,000 — ten times the median full-time wage in the U.S. at the time. And Spector, of course, owned his own publishing company. (And just to be clear, this is gravy money on top of what came in from the actual record sales to his company.)

Spector did produce hits; but some writing on Spector overstates his chart success. Although he was a very successful producer at the time, his Wall of Sound girl-group hits constituted only five top-ten singles, with another eight top-40 tracks, with some of these hitting the lower reaches of the chart. (That’s a bit less than what a single midlevel Motown act might have accomplished.) And there are very few hidden gems in the few albums Spector put out. Second-tier tracks by even the Ronettes — like “Paradise” — are interesting but not essential. His production often overwhelms slighter songs. Spector dreamed of creating a sound that would alone carry his records to the heavens, but in fact he was dependent on strong songs to soar. Of his classic tracks, only “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” perhaps — piffle taken from the soundtrack to the racist Disney film Song of the South — is an inferior song that Spector turned into a hit by reputation. (That said, virtually all of those minor hits — like “Today I Met the Boy I’m Going to Marry,” by Darlene Love, which rose only to No. 39 at the time — have become pop classics.)

Along the way, he kept working on his public image. One of his weirder projects was a Christmas album. Spector loved Christmas songs, no matter his Jewish heritage, and identified with Irving Berlin, who had written “White Christmas,” the biggest Christmas song of all time. The album, titled, pompously, A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, was recorded in the summer of 1963 and featured 11 traditional Christmas songs, done Wall of Sound–style, and one powerful original, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” credited to Love as a solo performer. The album ended oddly, with a droning piece of sentimental whimsy by Spector over the melody of “Silent Night.” Its initial release coincided with the Kennedy assassination that November; it was not commercially successful that season, but has found an enormous audience since.

There are two key moments in Spector’s life where he was extremely lucky; both, ironically enough, involved the Beatles. The first of these came in 1964, when Beatlemania hit America. The Beatles were of course fans of Spector’s work — he met them on his first trip to the U.K., and finagled a trip back with them on the plane when they first touched down in the U.S.

No matter: The era of the girl group came to an abrupt end in April 1964, when the Beatles stacked the top five songs on the Billboard charts. Spector had built his career on those groups; he might have ended up as pop roadkill as well. But as fate would have it he had just happened upon an act called the Righteous Brothers, singers Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley; Spector fixated on them and spent significant money to borrow them from their label. His relationship with them was always fraught, but he created four massive hits for the pair in quick succession: first “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” and then “Just Once in My Life,” “Unchained Melody,” and “Ebb Tide.”

The first of these spent three weeks at No. 1 and in time grew to be a juggernaut, winning industry awards for being the most-played radio song of all time. It may be Spector’s wildest and most dramatic achievement — one he let play out to nearly four minutes, an unprecedented length for a pop single in that era. (He listed the time as 3:05 on the label.) From a later perspective we can see that the Righteous Brothers hits were a lucky replacement for his girl-group operation, and his four final hits as well — the last dwindling accomplishments of his classic period. At the time, however, it seemed to be merely a continuation of Spector’s golden touch.

But Spector could intuit that the music was changing. (He might have noticed as well that Berry Gordy’s Motown operation wasn’t bothered at all by the Beatles.) He’d spent some time in England with the Rolling Stones — Spector would later play guitar on “Play With Fire” — as well. Behind the scenes he was maneuvering in halting ways to produce an actual rock act — the Rascals, the Lovin’ Spoonful — but never landed one. Then Spector signed the Modern Folk Quartet, and recorded an album that gave the band a jaunty Beach Boys feel … but never released it.

It is in this context that a key moment in his life transpired, and one of the most heavily mythologized moments in the early history of rock and roll: the single that drove Phil Spector out of the music business.

Spector made a somewhat bizarre appearance in a rock and roll concert film for which he was a co-producer. It was called The Big T.N.T. Show; in it, he conducted an orchestra and played a piano while Joan Baez essayed a laborious run-through of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” In the resulting film, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue stole the show. He became fixated on Tina Turner, probably the most dynamic singer in the music at the time. Spector decided he would construct the rock song of all rock songs, to be sung by her. Sidelining Ike Turner as producer as part of the deal with a sizable payment (though Ike’s name would stay on the record), Spector worked with Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry for a song that could fulfill this mission. According to Mick Brown, the composition was not smooth:

In the heyday of their collaboration, all three writers would sit around the piano, swapping ideas and themes. But now friendship had given way to estrangement. According to Greenwich, each arrived at the writing sessions with a different part: Greenwich provided the melody of the verse; Spector provided the melody of the chorus; and Barry most of the words. Even before it was recorded, the effect was an awkward fit; two quite separate songs that seemed to have been plucked from opposite corners of the room and forced to dance together.

Then came days of preparation. Tina Turner had never heard of Spector; in her autobiography, she gives a detached and unflattering perspective on the first impression he made to outsiders. She looked askance at his odd hair, ostentatious clothes, unhealthy complexion and weird behavior. “He would pick up an apple core from an ashtray and eat it. I thought that was nasty!” she writes. As they rehearsed, however, she came to understand the respect Spector had for her voice.

There were nearly two dozen musicians in the tiny, sweltering studio; the production went on and on. “Who knows what this record cost — maybe 20 grand,” said Bob Krasnow, who ran the Turners’ label at the time. “In those days you could make five albums for $20,000. And this was just a single — one side of a single.“ Turner said Spector made her sing the song “500,000 times” at a session that stretched all night, with just her, Spector, and engineer Larry Levine in the studio: “Pretty soon, I was drenched with sweat. I had to take off my shirt and stand there in my bra to sing, that’s how hard I was working on that song.”

The result was “River Deep — Mountain High,” a decent song with a production over-the-top even by Spector standards; Turner’s performance is certainly dramatic as well, and holds its own. Initial plays to industry insiders got a great response. But the world was different in 1966. It was the year of “Paint It Black” and “Eight Miles High,” Pet Sounds and Revolver.

The record appeared briefly at the bottom of the Billboard Hot 200 in the U.S. — and that was it. Turner herself felt the record was too Black for white radio and too white for Black radio. To some, the record was just too noisy. Others saw that Spector’s insular infatuation with his own production schema, his grandiosity, his arrogance toward many in the industry — these issues had all come home to roost. Writes Ribowsky: “No other major record in pop-music history was resisted for as many different reasons as ‘River Deep — Mountain High’ was.”

The producer was by all accounts devastated; in a fit of pique he canceled the release of an accompanying album, probably missing an opportunity to let work stand up against the other visionary album productions of the day. Ironically, the single did quite well in England, going almost to No. 1. The 25-year-old Spector took out an ad in the trade papers, offering an indigestible flailing attack at the U.S. “Benedict Arnold was right,” he wrote — and disappeared.

Along this journey he had started to display some of the turbulent behavior that would eventually lead to Lana Clarkson’s killing. His ruthless business practices sometimes edged into outright cruelty: After “She’s a Rebel,” he made life miserable for Sill to the point where Spector could buy him out of Philles inexpensively, then never paid him. Instead Spector recorded a single — titled “Screw You” — and made only one copy. It was indeed a big fuck you to the person whose connections had made Spector’s career. On the personal level, friends, partners and lovers would be summarily abused and dropped. A young David Geffen came into Spector’s orbit at the time. Spector went out of his way to deride and humiliate the young and ambitious Geffen, who would nonetheless channel some of Spector’s ruthlessness as he mounted his own career.

In January 1965 Spector was rewarded with a profile, “The First Tycoon of Teen,” by Tom Wolfe, in the New York Herald Tribune, a highly prestigious paper (the progenitor of New York), and one that let people like Wolfe write in a highly impressionistic form. The piece began with Spector freaking out on an airplane taxiing for takeoff and demanding that it be turned around so he could be let off. The event is portrayed a little bit more favorably toward the subject than the hysterical outburst warranted. Wolfe then dials things up to 11 and beyond:

“Every baroque period has a flowering genius who rises up as the most glorious expression of its style of life — in latter-day Rome, the Emperor Commodus; in Renaissance Italy, Benvenuto Cellini; in late Augustan England, the Earl of Chesterfield; in the sal volatile Victorian age, Dante Gabriel Rossetti; in late-fancy neo-Greek Federal America, Thomas Jefferson; and in Teen America, Phil Spector is the bona-fide Genius of Teen.

The rest of the article is similarly uncritical, and also gives  the impression that Spector wrote all of his hits. Wolfe couldn’t be bothered to talk to any of the collaborators Spector had alienated during his New York sojourn, take the subway to the Bronx and look into Spector’s family history, or notice the deleterious effect the Beatles had had on his girl-group success. But the piece cemented an image of mysterious genius at the heart of Spector’s image and would be forever connected to his story; indeed, when Spector released a box CD set of his work in the 1980s, the article is reprinted as the centerpiece of the accompanying booklet.

Much later, Sonny Bono, who had worked for Spector at the time, would tell biographer Ribowsky what really happened the day Spector had the plane turn around:

Bono recalled: “As the plane had taxied to get in position for takeoff, Phil freaked out. He was screaming, I’m not flyin’ on this plane! These people are losers and the plane’s not gonna make it!’ Phil always thought the people he thought were losers were cursed. So they came back to the gate, which is against all regulations, threw him off, and banned him from flyin’ American Airlines ever again. They took his credit cards and took down all his identification, everything. They hated him, and I think they fired the pilot for bringin’ the plane back.”Unable to pull himself out of bed, Sonny sent Cher to the airport to get Phil onto another flight on a different airline. She found him out cold, on a lounge seat at the same gate. Calling Sonny, she said, “He’s asleep and a crowd of people are lookin’ at him.” Rousing him, Cher found the only way she could get Phil on another plane was to give him the St. Christopher medal she wore on a chain around her neck. “Phil, put it on,” she told him. “It’s blessed.” Phil, the medal dangling down on his thighs during the flight, prayed to a Christian God all the way to New York.”

Throughout his early life friends had seen him spend endless time fussing with his disappearing hair and fretting about his height. Finally, he changed both, adopting shoes with two-inch heels and wearing wigs. Clothes got even more flamboyant. Sunglasses were omnipresent. He adopted a brace of bodyguards, used not for his protection but muscle. Over the years friends had watched him initiate altercations in public spaces; now Spector had helpers to get him out of trouble. Once he showed up at Don Kirshner’s office with his bodyguards — and without warning told one of them to do a feint kick just an inch from Kirshner’s face. Over the years one or another of these heavies would turn into his chief friend, fixer, majordomo, and amanuensis — and ultimately de facto nanny for his children.

His relationship with his mother remained acrimonious; his sister’s mind was deteriorating and he had that to deal with as well. Other incidents suggest anger and resentment. For example, at a time when he was a bona fide celebrity and a millionaire — back when that meant something — he understandably chose to go to a high-school reunion. But he took his bodyguards, who stood at his table and didn’t let anyone come close to talk to him.

His relationships with women from the start were off. His first marriage was to an early L.A. girlfriend, Annette Mehar. They were living in New York at the time and had discussed getting married in L.A. — but then Spector insisted it had to be done in New York instead of Los Angeles, with little notice and no time for Annette’s family and friends to travel there. The wedding night ended in tears — and then Spector flew off to L.A. “Phil was just not available as a husband, partner, or friend,” she recalled. “As soon as we were married everything started going to hell.” The marriage lasted a year. “Phil seemed to thrive on destroying his opponent, even if it was his wife,” she reflected. Ultimately, she found out that Spector was carrying on an affair with Ronnie Bennett, and she was dispatched with $100,000.

Back in L.A., he rented a mansion in Beverly Hills just above the Sunset Strip. Bennett was his next big relationship. His behavior with her quickly became domineering and stalker-y; he kept her close by and silent in the studio so she couldn’t talk to other musicians; he interfered with her in conversations with others and once tracked her down at a club and dragged her off the dance floor. When her band was touring England with the Rolling Stones, he ordered Bennett to stay in her hotel room to be there anytime he called. (“A man of prodigious jealousy,” Keith Richards put it, admitting he’d been in love with Bennett at the time, and that later he’d have an affair with her.) After various feints to get around Bennett’s mother, who would have no part of anything but a real marriage, Spector finally got married to Bennett; her mother was there, but not the other Ronettes. The wedding day ended with a bruising fight in his mansion with him accusing her of just wanting his money. While some of Ronnie Spector’s friends also suspected that her marriage to Spector was one of convenience, she certainly got the worst of it; her autobiography is a pretty unpleasant picture.

Ronnie filed for divorce three months after the marriage, but the pair reconciled. They slipped into a toxic and increasingly embittered and contentious lifestyle. She found herself married to a jealous and paranoid man who kept control of their money and the household staff. They rarely went out. Ronnie was monitored by Phil’s staff and later claimed that she was sometimes not permitted to leave the mansion. She sank into a debilitating alcoholism. Phil didn’t record with her again for three years; his one effort with her, “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered,” was a flop and is forgotten today. Aside from a single she did with George Harrison during the time of Phil’s associations with the Beatles, he did little to help her find other opportunities in the industry.

Ronnie’s marriage to Phil Spector was the death sentence for her career; he had sidelined one of the most vibrant voices of her generation. Some biographies say that Ronnie adopted a baby boy, Donte, on her own, but it’s not clear if that was actually the case or whether the couple had done the adoption together; a few months later, she found that Phil had adopted two boys on his own. Their marriage lasted until 1975; during the divorce proceedings, in response to charges that Ronnie had been drinking, her lawyer replied that it was to “shut out the continuous stream of shrieking by the respondent.” The divorce was granted, but Phil kept custody of the children, who would be cared for through childhood by various bodyguards. He wrote “Fuck You” on all of Ronnie’s alimony checks.

An old girlfriend went to visit him during this period and caught a good look of Spector at home:

“My God, talk about the Little Prince … All that stone, all that huge emptiness, and this endless dining-room table. And there was little Phillip — my God, he looked so lost. And I thought, Who would want this? What are you doing here? What is this big lonesome? I mean, do you like this? Because I would never want to be here. It’s too big, too cold, too lonesome. Is this just a thing about you’re strong and you’re powerful and you can live in a big frigging castle? Like, who gives a shit? Does that actually make you feel big about yourself? It was like somebody who feels so insecure and frightened inside. It made me so very sad.”

In the wake of “River Deep — Mountain High,” Spector let Philles sit unattended. He dealt with the death of his friend Lenny Bruce, paying for an elaborate funeral; he also palled around with Dennis Hopper, and even appears in the first scene of Easy Rider. Spector promised to help fund Hopper’s The Last Movie — until he didn’t, and Hopper sued him. A few producing gigs for A&M records went nowhere. Toward the end of the 1960s he had started drinking. There are many pointillistic views of the Phil Spector phenomenon, but just about everyone agrees that he was not just a mean drunk but an irrational and intolerable one. This affliction, particularly, would help turn the 1970s into a curious maelstrom of success and decay.

The Beatles had destroyed his girl-group fortunes in 1964, but in 1969 they came, unwittingly, to his rescue in another stroke of Spectorian good luck. In the U.K. the stories about his dwindling powers had not spread. The Beatles had recorded an album called Get Back, but it had not been released amid the then-bitter acrimony amongst the band members. Instead, Paul McCartney put the band through its paces for Abbey Road. The Beatles’ manager, Allen Klein, from whom McCartney was estranged, offered the job of cleaning up the Get Back sessions for release to Spector.

His preparation of the album that would be released under the name Let It Be involved track selection, sequencing, and to some extent re-envisioning the songs on the tapes he was given by Klein. He slowed down “Across the Universe,” and extended the length of “I Me Mine” and “Let It Be”; most Beatles fans don’t know it was he who spent a day at Abbey Road listening to the band’s studio chatter and distributing the (dubiously charming) bits of spoken words that mark the album. (“Phase One, in which Doris gets her oats.”) For three songs — “I Me Mine,” “Across the Universe,” and, most notoriously, Paul McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road” — Spector brought in a huge orchestral contingent, including nearly two dozen violins and violas, at an enormous cost. He also added what are invariably referred to as the “heavenly choirs,” most glaringly on “Road.” (Outside voices had never been heard on a Beatles record before.) It worked, in one sense: Spector could point out that the recast “Long and Winding Road” and the title song were No. 1 singles in the U.S., ending the band’s career at a peak. That did not assuage McCartney’s well-known disdain for the productions. Many years later, McCartney masterminded the release of Let It Be … Naked without Spector’s enhancements.

During this work, Spector established a relationship with John Lennon and George Harrison. He helped Lennon maneuver the studio and produce one of his most memorable solo singles, “Instant Karma.” This beat-heavy chart, overlaid on one of the loudest of all the Wall of Sound productions, produced a No. 2 hit. Lennon was taken with the producer, those who were there said, and treated Spector like royalty. Spector would go on to produce the stark Plastic Ono Band, and then Imagine, a big hit on the album charts, on the strength of the title single, which again went to No. 2 in the top 40 — but also the agitprop unpleasantness of Lennon’s Some Time in New York City, the hitless Yoko Ono collaboration that was the nadir of the star’s solo career. (“The tunes are shallow and derivative,” wrote Rolling Stone, “and the words little more than sloppy nursery rhymes.”)

Spector also produced George Harrison’s epic and great-sounding All Things Must Pass album, Harrison’s own artistic high point, though Harrison discovered that it would take Spector some number of hours, and a large number of cherry brandies, before he would get to work each night. And then Spector, oddly, skipped town before the project was through, sending Harrison detailed missives from L.A. about how the final touches should be accomplished.

Spector’s Beatles association gave him at least another decade of credibility. The very least that could be said was that he hadn’t negatively affected the band’s career, and the case could be made that he had some hand in ushering the band out of the 1960s on a commercial high note and took Lennon and Harrison, at least, into ’70s commercial and artistic respectability.  (Harrison, certainly, would do much worse.)

Back home, Spector got himself remunerative production deals with first A&M, and then Warner Brothers. Nothing came of either. Lennon came back to Spector a few years later, for what was supposed to be a covers album of rock and roll classics and which would eventually duly be released under the name Rock ‘n’ Roll. This was during Lennon’s so-called “Lost Weekend” period, when he spent 18 months carousing in Los Angeles while he was separated from Ono. Eventually, the mix between the drunken, unfocused star and the conniving, mentally disturbed producer hit a flashpoint. The sessions were thrown out of A&M’s studio after Spector brandished a gun; in the second, he did it again—and the gun went off. In the end, few usable tracks were left. When Lennon tried to get some of his session tapes back, a messenger sent to pick up the tapes at Spector’s office was greeted by the producer himself — wielding an axe.

The gun incidents with Lennon weren’t unusual. “I would say Hitlerian, the atmosphere was one of guns,” Leonard Cohen, who shared a manager with Spector, later said. “I mean, that’s what was really going on, guns. The music was subsidiary, an enterprise. People were armed to the teeth … you were slipping over bullets, and you were biting into revolvers in your hamburger. There were guns everywhere.”

Spector had a reunion lunch one day with Annette Kleinbard, the main voice on “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” who by that time had changed her name to Carol Connors. While they were leaving the Polo Lounge, Spector got into an altercation with a woman outside. He pulled a gun on her, much to Kleinbard’s horror.

This was the time, as well, of the first reports of his tendency to coax people into his home and then keep them there for hours with a mixture of cajolery and threats. He would invite potential biographers over and then keep them up until the wee hours, spinning pathetic fables of things he most certainly hadn’t done (like having been part of the student unrest in Paris in 1968).

Spector even had a chance to produce Cher, by that time a solo star with a number of hit singles to her name, leading to another misfire. Cher was living with David Geffen, by that time a mogul himself on a level far outstripping Spector. In the studio, a struggling Spector took out his insecurities on Geffen, at one point punching him. Geffen would feature in rants throughout Spector’s life.

Mick Brown paints the period this way: “Those close to Spector noticed a pattern. He would drink to a point of near insensibility, and was prone to furious rages. ‘Phil could out-scream anybody I knew,’ [said one friend]. ‘I’ve never heard anybody being able to maintain yelling at somebody for ten minutes straight, but he could do that. When you see Phil screaming with bulging red eyes, it’s like seeing Satan.’”

Showing up for an interview with the BBC “in a quasi military uniform, carrying a gun and sporting a straw hat … nearly killing himself in a car accident on the Sunset Strip … showing up to recording sessions with a case of Manischewitz wine to be drunk through a straw — ‘his skin would stink from the smell of it,’ someone said — and then scaling up to amyl nitrate … talking of his plans to have a movie made of his life — in three parts, to be directed respectively by Dennis Hopper, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese … causing a scene in Elaine’s, in New York, and getting punched out by Steve Dunleavy … pulling a gun on a parking-lot attendant after he stepped in to an altercation between Spector and a woman” … and on and on.

And finally, at the end of the decade, most notoriously came a collaboration with the Ramones. The result wasn’t terrible — given Joey Ramone’s plain affection for girl-group songs, and the band’s own wall of sound, you could see how there was a logic to the collaboration. The recording, however, was not a happy experience for the Ramones themselves. Spector drove the band to distraction during the recording, at one point keeping them at gunpoint at his home — and then disappeared with the band’s tapes for six months.

After the Ramones, there was a break in the life of Phil Spector. He went quiet, doing little for ten years. He fell into something approaching a permanent relationship with his assistant Janis Zavalos, apparently marrying her but not disclosing the fact to friends. He also hid the fact that he had had twins with her, in 1981. Spector was suddenly a dad and something like a partner. His personality seemed to shift. He doted on the kids, within certain Spectorian parameters: “No Disneyland, no beach.”

In later years he acknowledged that during this time he was under care for manic depression, if not full-blown schizophrenia. The family moved out of Beverly Hills to a more remote but still elaborate expanse in Pasadena. As the decade wore on the brilliant businessman discovered his late manager had been embezzling from him. In 1989 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where he would serve on the nominating committee as well. He went to his induction ceremony drunk, and embarrassed himself at his acceptance speech.

Those close to Spector point to the traumatic disappearance of his father as evidence that one of the triggers of his mental condition was death. He had been friends with Lenny Bruce — perhaps Bruce’s last friend — and was profoundly affected by the comedian’s decline and ultimate death, in 1966. In 1980 Lennon was killed. In early 1991, Spector’s songwriting friend Doc Pomus died.

The events that led to the death of Clarkson in 2003 perhaps started that year. For unknown reasons, he and Zavalos split up; shortly afterward, one of their children, 9-year-old Phillip Spector Jr., died from leukemia. The child was the same age Spector had been when his father died. It was widely accepted among Spector’s acquaintances that the death of his son left him bereft. “The most obscene and vile word in the language,” Spector would say later, “is dead.

He left his home in Pasadena, leaving behind some unexplained animosity toward the town. (“If I owned both hell and Pasadena, I’d sell Pasadena and live in hell.”) He apparently lived for the next few years in New York.

Coming back to L.A. in 1998, he found a house worthy of his psyche — a veritable castle. It was in fact formally called the Pyrenees Castle, high on a hill in the otherwise nondescript town of Alhambra, ten miles due east of downtown Los Angeles and much farther away physically and emotionally from the heart and soul of the industry where he had made his name and fortune. The home had eight bedrooms and presented itself in a foreboding way at the top of the spacious grounds. If you wanted to create an impression on visitors — and Phil Spector was very much that person — you could force them to be dropped out at the foot of a steep set of stairs they would have to scale to get to the front door, even if it were raining.

Spector’s last few years as a free man were bleak. He was estranged from his adopted kids; the brothers left home after high school and rarely interacted with their father. Donte, the first child Ronnie Spector and he had adopted, had showed up at a local police station in West Los Angeles in 1980 and said he was being mistreated; he went to live in New York with his mother, but then came back to L.A., and ended up living with Spector’s mother. He drifted and became a street prostitute; after Spector’s arrest, Donte said he’d been held captive as a child, had been threatened with his father’s guns, and forced to participate in sex acts by his father.

When Spector did work, there was the feel of a Fellini cast party, as when he was hired to produce a session for Celine Dion. The control room was filled with Brian Wilson, Chris Isaak, Penny Marshall, Ike Turner, Rodney Bingenheimer, and — of course, and why not — Kato Kaelin. Nothing came of it.

What happened to Lana Clarkson very late on the night of February 2, 2003, could have been prevented. Spector’s antics with guns had gone on for decades. Mick Brown has this story of events at his Beverly Hills home, from Michelle Phillips, of the Mamas & the Papas:

“At length, two officers from the Bel Air police arrived at the house, alerted by Phillips’s friend. [Michelle Phillips said:] “They came into the living room and Phil was standing there with the gun. And they said, ‘Mr. Spector, put the gun down.’ So he rather reluctantly put the gun down. And they said, ‘Is anybody here being held against their will?’ And Ann and I put up our hands. They said, ‘Would you two come with us, please.’ And then they turned to him and they said, ‘Mr. Spector, we have warned you about this over and over again …’”

Spector as the jury convicted him of murder, April 13, 2009.
Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Clarkson was an actress of limited note in Hollywood, with a bit of stardom in her past for some B-movies, including Roger Corman’s Barbarian Queen. She was working as a hostess in the VIP section of the House of Blues on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip the night Spector came in, very late in the evening of February 2. A sense of what Spector’s life was like at the time can be inferred from the fact that he had already been through two failed dates that night, along with some large amount of tequila. After the departure of the second woman he chatted up Clarkson; in the early-morning hours he persuaded her to come home with him. When they got to his house, the driver later testified, Clarkson said, “This won’t be long. Only one drink.”

The driver testified later he’d heard a shot; some time later, Spector came out, dazed, telling the driver, “I think I killed someone.” He was holding a gun, and had Clarkson’s blood on his hands. The police found Clarkson in his front hallway; she’d been shot in the mouth. Her handbag was over her shoulder, suggesting that she was preparing to leave or had never taken it off in the first place. Spector, exercised, told police that the shooting had been an accident.

The time between Clarkson’s killing and Spector’s imprisonment was one of the more reprehensible spectacles of how celebrities accused of sexual inappropriateness and worse in the pre–Me Too era were given a pass. Spector was allowed out on bail. He was free to travel to New York. A long Esquire article by Scott Rabb chronicled a night of partying there with David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer and others. In the piece, a 6,000-word feature done up with wan attempts at classic Esquire style, Clarkson is treated with palpable contempt:

Her name was Lana Clarkson, and she was a chronically aspiring buxom blond B-movie actress/model/comedienne/hostess — a type always common in Hollywood and not unknown at the castle. She died of a gunshot to her head, and though she hasn’t yet become a corpus delicti — whatever happened, it happened on February 3, and nobody’s been charged with any crime at all, not yet — she did wind up dead, which is one heck of a kicker to the Phil Spector story, which wasn’t exactly lacking Gothic before that.

This dovetailed conveniently with a key Spector defense, that Clarkson was a has-been or failed actress; this was to make the case that she had decided to commit suicide in Spector’s foyer. Clarkson may or may not have been depressed, but in reality she had worked steadily through 2001, when an accident left her with two broken wrists and disrupted her career. The piece was a valuable piece of positive PR for the producer as he created courtroom chaos and managed to delay the trial for years by causing scenes and firing lawyers.

In 2006 he met and married a 26-year-old named Rachelle Short, a sometime model who became a vociferous defender of Spector’s innocence. Along the way he produced an album for her. Title: Out of My Chelle.

The trial started in 2007. Six women testified to visits to Spector’s house that ended with his refusing to let them leave at the point of a gun. It ended in a mistrial and everything started over. He was finally convicted in April 2009, and sentenced the next month to 15 years to life for the murder and an additional four years for the use of the gun.

Once he was imprisoned, his new wife took over managing his affairs. After claiming she was spending too much money, Spector divorced her from jail.

No One Was Safe from Phil Spector

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