Phil Spector, the influential but erratic rock ‘n’ roll producer best known for his layered “Wall of Sound” recording technique, was arrested on suspicion of murder early Monday after an actress was found shot to death at his hilltop mansion in Alhambra.
Police said they were called to the gated estate about 5 a.m. by a limousine driver who reported hearing shots fired after he dropped off the couple in Spector’s Mercedes-Benz.
Officers arrived to find the body of a woman identified as Lana Clarkson, 40, of Los Angeles, an actress who attracted a cult following from her roles in films by director Roger Corman, and has appeared widely in TV programs and commercials. Her body was sprawled in the marble foyer, Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators said.
FOR THE RECORD:
This article, published Feb. 4, 2003, misidentified a source of information. The article said that Bob Merlis, a music publicist, told The Times about Spector’s ex-wife and her employment status. That information in fact came from a different music industry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. —
Alhambra police immediately arrested Spector, 62, the soundboard genius behind such hits as “Be My Baby” and “You Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” He was released late Monday on $1-million bail, accompanied by his defense attorney, Robert Shapiro.
Sheriff’s investigators would not describe the relationship between Clarkson and Spector. Sources said they had met the night before.
Investigators said Clarkson and Spector were the only people in the house at the time of the shooting, although other people may have been on the wooded estate, which towers improbably over a middle-class neighborhood of single-story homes.
Legendary in the music industry for his work in the 1960s and ‘70s with such varied artists as the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers and the Ronettes, Spector built a reputation by the 1980s as a recluse, chased behind mansion walls by personal demons, haunted by drinking and reckless behavior. Friends said they thought he had put that behind him in recent years, and expressed bewilderment at the charges.
“None of this equates,” said guitarist Dave Kessel, one of Spector’s closest friends. “He has been in great spirits and great shape, and feeling so good about everything. This doesn’t fit into what I know about him and where he is.”
Lt. Daniel Rosenberg, the sheriff’s homicide detective in charge of the investigation, said investigators recovered a gun that was believed to be the murder weapon.
Although Rosenberg would not say how many times the gun was fired, one neighbor, who declined to identify herself, said she heard three or four shots.
Asked if Spector had admitted committing the crime, Rosenberg said, “No. There has not been a confession by Mr. Spector.”
A large team of investigators, led by six sheriff’s detectives, pored over the estate throughout the day Monday, paying special attention to the foyer, where the shooting is believed to have occurred, and the driveway, where the newly purchased black Mercedes-Benz sat facing the front gate, its driver’s-side door agape.
Spector purchased the Alhambra chateau -- built with 33 rooms in 1926 by a Basque rancher and dubbed the Pyrenees Castle -- for $1.1 million in 1998. Spector commented later in Esquire magazine that he had bought “a beautiful and enchanting castle in a hick town where there is no place to go that you shouldn’t go.”
That derisive tone was repaid in kind Monday by some neighbors, who said their only contact with Spector was the occasional glimpse of him speeding by in a luxury car. “I just saw him driving by waving, the feudal lord to the serfs,” said Lynn Browers, who lives on a street behind the Spector estate.
But Spector’s move to Alhambra also appeared to reflect his desire to stay out of trouble after his wild years, when he was dogged by accusations of domestic abuse and public drunken rages.
The Ramones accused him in 1980 of brandishing a gun in the studio; singer Leonard Cohen called him a madman out of control three years earlier.
In an interview with The Times in 1991, Spector fretted that his reputation as a recluse and tales of his drinking and violence would taint his legacy, and he compared himself to a late friend, troubled comedian Lenny Bruce. “I started asking myself, ‘Do they remember Lenny Bruce as the philosophical genius and great comic mind -- or do they remember him as some sick, stupid morphine addict?’ ”
In the same interview, he said his substance abuse and relationships had also haunted him: “Do I have regrets? Sure, lots of them. From people I married to records I could have done, I have a lifetime of regrets.”
Spector has been married several times, and has four children. Among his marriages was one to Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the Ronettes. Another ex-wife, Janice Spector, had been working for him until two weeks ago, when she quit, said Bob Merlis, a longtime music industry publicist and Spector confidante.
The victim of Monday’s shooting, Clarkson left behind a long filmography heavy on such 1980s B-movie fare as “Death Stalker,” “Blind Date” and Corman’s “Barbarian Queen,” in which she played the sword-wielding title character. She claimed the Corman role was the prototype for the TV show “Xena: Warrior Princess.” She also appeared in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Scarface,” and has been a regular at comic book and movie fan conventions.
Her Web site, www.livingdollproductions.com, says she also worked in stand-up comedy and volunteered at Project Angel Food, a meal delivery program for people with the HIV virus. In on-line comments to fans, she said that she had “plenty” of security, including a bodyguard.
“I have had some problems,” the 6-foot-tall, blond actress wrote last fall, “but they were dealt with by the authorities.”
Clarkson wrote that she considered herself a spiritual person, and “I like to be with someone who has some sort of spiritual practice, likes kids, does volunteer work and likes to travel. I hope to make some sort of difference in this lifetime.... I’d like to find a partner who has the same aspiration.”
There is no evidence of any prior connection between Clarkson and Spector.
In recent years, friends said, Spector seemed to have found a harmony in his life that matched the buoyant sound of his classic early hits.
Those friends said Spector had reengaged the music world, becoming a frequent figure at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame events, checking out new bands at Sunset Strip concerts and returning to the studio to try to relaunch his career with the promising British band Starsailor.
He also had become more outgoing, organizing an annual bowling party in Montrose for his friends, attending Los Angeles Lakers games and joining Nancy Sinatra at a Bruce Springsteen concert.
“He has not been a recluse by any means,” Merlis said. “He entertains at his home, and he has been a great guy and a great friend. I just think the world of him. And that’s what makes this all so hard.”
Another friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Spector had become comfortable in recent years with the mantle of an elder statesman with a wild past. “He had been happy and sober,” the friend said.
If Spector’s life has made him a figure of grim mystery, his music was infused with a shimmering magic and an orchestral bombast that made it jump out of the radio in the late 1950s through the ‘70s.
Spector is one of the rare pop music producers to achieve brand-name recognition with the public and the history books, joining the likes of Quincy Jones, George Martin, Sam Phillips and Jerry Wexler.
For Spector, the fame was shaped by his layered, orchestral work, the famous Wall of Sound, which gave a luminosity and power to late-'60s songs such as “Then He Kissed Me” by the Crystals. He called the songs “pop symphonies for teens.”
“He showed he was a genius,” Wexler said. “He created these records out of his own imagination and created a way of recording. The Wall of Sound is something we all learned from.... I’m not religious, so I can’t pray, but I’m yearning with all my heart that he will be exonerated.”
Born Harvey Phillip Spector in the Bronx, Spector was a 17-year-old Fairfax High School student in Los Angeles when he wrote and produced his first hit, “To Know Him is To Love Him,” a title taken from an inscription on his father’s tombstone.
By 21, Spector was a millionaire and a maverick dubbed the “teen tycoon” by author Tom Wolfe. By the end of the 1960s, Spector was working with the music of the Beatles and popping up as a cocaine user in the film “Easy Rider.”
He put strings on “The Long and Winding Road” for the Beatles, built the music foundation of “You Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’ ” for the Righteous Brothers and shaped the raucous backdrop to John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.” His other credits included Lennon’s “Imagine,” George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” and “River Deep -- Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner.
Robbie Robertson, who as a member of The Band is a fellow member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said Spector “actually invented something, which is quite rare in the music business. Mostly, people just do what other people do a little bit different. But he had a whole vision and a sound and a way of producing that was unique.... It changed Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys’ lives in terms of how to make records. It changed the Beatles’ lives.”
Spector’s last major work was with the Ramones in 1980 on the collection “End of the Century.” In recent years, the maestro who once moved so easily from project to project found it hard to find a new niche. Sessions with Celine Dion, for instance, fizzled a few years ago, and the recent Starsailor work in England led to the recording of a single, but not a whole album as had been discussed. That song will be on the band’s album due later this year.
Times staff writers David Pierson, Robert Hilburn, Errin Haines, Daniel Hernandez, Mitchell Landsberg and Cecilia Rasmussen contributed to this report.