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Phil Spector convicted of 2nd degree murder

by Danielle Berrin

April 13, 2009 | 10:29 pm

For a time, Phil Spector was considered one of the most successful producers in rock and roll history. Though he produced some of the most effervescent music of his generation—the Ronettes “Be My Baby,” the Crystals “Da Do Ron Ron,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” and perhaps most notably, John Lennon’s “Imagine”—the Bronx-born Jew battled crippling inner demons.

Earlier today, Spector was convicted of murdering B-movie actress Lana Clarkson, who had achieved something of a cult status after starring in exploitation films. Unable to find much acting work at age 40, Clarkson took a job as a hostess at the House of Blues to make ends meet. It was there that she met Spector, who promptly invited her for a drink at his mansion. Hours later, she was found dead in his foyer from a gunshot fired in her mouth.

Though he pled not guilty, Spector has over the years, fessed up to insurmountable private pain.

According to a story in the Telegraph, Spector was unleashing demons just a month before the murder:

“People tell me they idolize me, want to be like me,” Spector said in an interview with the Telegraph magazine in December 2002, just five weeks before the killing of Lana Clarkson. “But I tell them, ‘Trust me, you don’t want my life’. Because it hasn’t been a very pleasant life. I’ve been a very tortured soul. I have not been at peace myself. I have not been happy.”

The Telegraph story also attributes his suffering to a toxic (but Jewish) upbringing:

Much of this unhappiness could be traced back to his childhood. Spector was born into a working-class Jewish family in the Bronx, New York, the son of a steelworker. When he was nine-years-old his father committed suicide, leaving him to be brought up by an overbearing mother who alternately smothered and bullied him.

Spector is due for sentencing on May 29 and was denied interim bail. The Associated Press reports that second-degree murder carries a penalty of 15 years to life in prison with the use-of-a-gun adding three, four or 10 years in prison.

Read more about The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector in the Telegraph:

Spector was a visionary who dreamed of creating a sound never before heard in pop. He approached making records like a general waging war, assembling armies of musicians and singers to create the dense, echoing ‘Wall of Sound’ that would become his trademark. Spector became, uniquely, a bigger star than any of the artists he produced - ‘the first tycoon of teen’ in the memorable phrase of the writer Tom Wolfe.By 1966, Spector’s reign at the top of the American charts was over. When his most extravagant production ever, Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountan High, failed to dent the American charts, he was crushed. He retired to his mansion to brood; married his protege Ronnie Bennett, the lead singer of the Ronettes, and, consumed with jealously, kept her a virtual prisoner in the home. In 1970, his career was briefly given a new lease of life when he was invited to finalise production on the Beatles’ last album, Let It Be. .

Through the Seventies, Spector worked only intermittently, producing albums by Leonard Cohen, Dion DiMucci and, finally, in 1979, the Ramones. By now his reputation for waywardness had all but eclipsed any acknowledgement of his extraordinary accomplishments as a producer. Stories abounded of his drinking, of scenes in restaurants, of, most ominously, of his prediliction for guns. He would habitually wear a shoulder-holster around the home, and he seldom left home without one. Recording with John Lennon he let off a live round into the ceiling of the studio. Recording Leonard Cohen, he approached the singer clutching a bottle of Jewish ritual wine in one hand and a pistol in the other, which he shoved into Cohen’s neck, whispering ‘Leonard, I love you.’

Cohen with admirable aplomb, simply moved the barrel away, saying ‘I hope you do, Phil’.

He also displayed an apparently pathological fear of being left alone.

Stories abounded of him refusing to allow visitors to his mansion to leave, locking the doors and warning that his guard dogs would savage them. A central plank of the case against him was the testimony of five women who claimed that a drunken Spector had threatened them with guns when they tried to leave.

Read Amy Wallace’s story about the rise and fall of Lana Clarkson:

Ms. Clarkson, 40, had starred in a number of films made by the king of the B-movies, the producer and director Roger Corman. Her occasionally topless roles in films like “Amazon Women on the Moon” and “Barbarian Queen” had won her a cult following. But she had to work as a hostess at a Sunset Strip club to pay the bills. And it was at that club, the House of Blues, where the police say she met Mr. Spector the night she died.

Just days earlier, the actress had delivered a new set of photos and resumes to her agent, who was lining up auditions for television sitcoms. “We were getting ready for pilot season,” said the agent, Ray Cavaleri. “She realized she was no longer the ingenue. But she was fine with it. She said, ‘Now I can go for the comedy, go for the more character kind of roles.’ ”

“She had to take the job at the House of Blues because she needed the money,” Mr. Cavaleri said. “But she looked at it as a positive. She was working one of the
private rooms, so she was networking, meeting the top people.” After 20 years in the business, Ms. Clarkson knew that Hollywood is all about relationships. And as a B-movie queen searching for a mainstream job, she also had to know this: She needed all the help she could get.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Danielle Berrin writes the Hollywood Jew blog, a cutting edge, values-based take on the entertainment industry for jewishjournal.com. A Los Angeles Times profile dubbed her...

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