Phil Spector
Phil Spector. Courtesy California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation

Legendary record producer Phil Spector, who was serving a prison term in Stockton for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson in Spector’s Alhambra home, died at a hospital Saturday evening, prison officials announced Monday.

Spector was 81.

Prison officials said he died of natural causes, but 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.

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

Spector was admitted to the prison from Los Angeles County on June 5, 2009, for second-degree murder. He had been sentenced to 19 years to life for shooting Clarkson, 40, to death in the foyer of his Alhambra mansion on Feb. 3, 2003.

The two had met hours earlier at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, where she had recently begun working as a VIP hostess.

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.

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 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 first post-Beatles solo album, “All Things Must Pass,” among scores of other recordings.

But he also 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.

In an interview with journalist Mick Brown less than two months before Clarkson’s slaying, Spector talked about psychological struggles, saying that he was taking medication for schizophrenia, the Los Angeles Times reported. He characterized himself as bipolar and said he had “devils” inside.

His father, Benjamin, died by suicide when he was 9. Later, his older sister, Shirley, was committed to a mental institution.

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.”

A flood of reactions to Spector’s death on Twitter grappled with his twin legacies as a game-changing force in pop music and a convicted murderer.

English recording artist Beverley Knight tweeted “Jeez. What an ignominious end to his life considering his incredible music career. His Wall Of Sound became the basis of so many songs from then to right now (including my last single).”

But she followed that up with a more blunt tweet one minute later: “Oh and let me say it straight out. He was a murdering lowlife scumbag. He deserved to die in prison.”

English songwriter and producer Alex Opal tweeted: “Music legend and my ultimate writing and production inspiration Phil Spector has passed away. Responsible for some of the greatest music of all time. Talented and insane in equal measure.”

Others simply tweeted a photo of Clarkson accompanied by pleas to remember Spector’s victim.

Donna Clarkson, Lana’s mother, released the following statement Sunday in memory of her daughter: “Lana Clarkson was a warm, compassionate, kind, loving woman who would be 58 years old now. Her energy, brightness and love of life have sustained her family since her murder 18 years ago in 2003.”

Ronnie Spector, former lead singer of the Phil Spector-produced group the Ronettes, was married to him from 1968 to 1974. She also acknowledged the duality of his legacy in a statement to the Times.

“It’s a sad day for music and a sad day for me,” Ronnie Spector said. “The magical music we were able to make together was inspired by our love. I loved him madly and gave my heart and soul to him.

“Unfortunately, Phil was not able to live and function outside of the recording studio. Darkness set in. Many lives were damaged.”

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