How Phil Spector's demons turned genius producer into murderous monster who abused wife and kids and shot actress dead

RECORD producer Phil Spector masterminded some of music’s biggest hits – but once told an interviewer: “I have devils inside that fight me.”

The man behind the ‘Wall of Sound’ – who died this weekend from Covid – would introduce himself as a genius but recognised he was prone to madness, adding: “I’m probably relatively insane.”

Spector’s brutal killing of Lana Clarkson turned him from the “tycoon of teen” with a £22million fortune, to a murdering monster serving 19 years to life in jail.

Despite a Grammy Award, number one hits and being lionized by everyone from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen, he died alone in hospital from coronavirus complications on Saturday.

His pal Steve Escobar, who met Spector in the early 2000s, told The Sun the vain producer hated the fact that the conviction had overshadowed his career.

Mr Escobar, 59, from Oakland, California, said: “It was frustrating to him that despite all he achieved in music the way most people remembered him was as a convicted murderer.


“He went from being this hugely influential guy in the culture to losing it all.

“I believe Phil was born bipolar but it only really started to develop in his twenties.

“I’ve found that bipolar people tend to focus on one thing and they will do it over and over and over again. Phil used a pattern and everything had to be the same.

“He would use the same musicians, the same studio, the same tape. Part of his genius came from this obsession with using the same stuff over and over again.

“It was a blessing and a curse.”

Devastated by dad's suicide

Spector, whose grandfather immigrated to the US from Ukraine in 1913, was born in the Bronx, New York in 1939 – but was hit by tragedy early in life.

He was nine when his father Ben, a steelworker suffering financial problems, committed suicide.

The family moved from the Big Apple to Los Angeles, where Spector’s mother Bertha worked full-time as a seamstress and a bookkeeper.

Mr Escobar said: “His father’s suicide had quite an effect on him because they were pretty tight.

“Phil’s mother didn’t raise him right, she was emotionally abusive to him. One time we were talking on the phone and he started crying about growing up with his mother.

“He did everything he could to please her and show her that he was something. She would come to recording sessions and bug and needle him.”

Phil’s mother didn’t raise him right, she was emotionally abusive to him.

Spector became obsessed with music at school and began writing songs, eventually starring in a musical trio called the Teddy Bears.

After graduating in 1958, they recorded To Know Him Is to Love Him– which became a million-selling hit and a number one single for 23 weeks.

The song was inspired by the message etched on his father’s gravestone.

After splitting from the group, Spector served an apprenticeship in New York with two of his idols, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who gave Elvis Presley a string of hits.

He learned the ropes as a record producer, before becoming a one-man hit factory.

Spector had 24 records in America’s Top 40 from 1960 to 1965 and was branded “The First Tycoon of Teen” for his magic touch.

Top ten singles included Then He Kissed Me and Da Doo Ron Ron by the Crystals and Be My Baby and Walking in the Rain by the Ronettes.

He produced Unchained Melody and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling for the Righteous Brothers and Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep, Mountain High.


Leonard Cohen and Ramones singer threatened with guns

Spector discovered his famous ‘Wall of Sound’ technique in a tunnel near Hollywood Boulevard – creating a roaring effect which he called the “Wagnerian approach to rock ‘n’ roll”.

He perfected it at the Gold Star studios in Los Angeles, where he worked with the engineer Larry Levine, arranger Jack Nitzsche and a team of musicians.

He layered multiple guitars, basses, strings and keyboards over one another, creating a sonic wave of distinctive sound.

Speaking in 1964, he said: “The records are built like a Wagner opera. They start simply and they end with dynamic force, meaning and purpose.

“It’s in the mind, I dreamed it up.”

He went on to work with The Beatles, producing their final album, Let It Be, in 1970 with hits The Long And Winding Road and Get Back.

He also produced John Lennon’s solo work, including ‘Imagine’.

Lennon called him the “greatest record producer ever” and Brian Wilson, from The Beach Boys, said: “He was everything. The biggest inspiration in my entire life.”

His musical accolades culminated in a Grammy Award in 1973 and an induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

But the threat of violence – and an obsession with guns – was never far from the surface.

He was said to have threatened members of the Ramones with a gun during recording sessions and even fired his weapon inches from John Lennon’s head in 1975.

Spector also held his gun to the head of singer Leonard Cohen after a bust-up over the phrasing of the line of a song in 1977.


Wife 'kept prisoner' and threatened with gold coffin

His personal life was also far from harmonious.

Spector’s first wife Annette Merar had described him as a womaniser prone to fits of rage.

His second marriage, to Ronnie Bennett, the lead singer of the Ronettes, was also tumultuous.

She claimed she was virtually kept prisoner at their mansion.

The singer also claimed Spector 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.

She eventually escaped in 1972, running barefoot from the hilltop estate.

When they finally divorced, she accused him of pulling a gun on her and forcing her to sign a divorce settlement that cut her out of future record earnings.


Following his death, she lauded his music-making skills – but branded him a “lousy husband”.

He was also said to have been abusive to their three adopted children, sickeningly forcing them to perform sex acts with one of his girlfriends.

In a statement on Sunday, Ronnie said: “When I was working with Phil Spector, watching him create in the recording studio, I knew I was working with the very best.

“He was in complete control, directing everyone. So much to love about those days. Meeting him and falling in love was like a fairytale.

“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.

“I still smile whenever I hear the music we made together, and always will. The music will be forever.”

But she added: “As I said many times while he was alive, he was a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband.

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

None more so than struggling B-movie actress Lana Clarkson.

Gun 'forced' into actress's mouth

In February 2003, after a heavy night of drinking, Spector drove the Fast Times at Ridgemont High star, 40, to his castle-style mansion in Alhambra, California.

She worked as a hostess at the House of Blues – where they had just met that night.

His chauffeur, waiting behind the house, later testified that he heard a popping sound, after which Spector emerged holding a revolver and said: “I think I killed somebody.”

Detectives found Lana slumped in a chair in the foyer of the 8,600 sq-ft home, fatally shot in the mouth with a single bullet.

Spector was charged with second-degree murder – but claimed the hostess had killed herself.

He said it was “accidental suicide” and she “kissed the gun”.

His defence team, in a 2007 trial, argued that Lana wanted to end her life because she was depressed about her failed acting career.

But a pathologist for the prosecution found bruising on Lana’s tongue, suggesting the weapon had been forced into her mouth.


Teeth knocked out in prison

The case became the biggest televised court trial since The People v OJ Simpson.

During proceedings, Spector, by this time wed to third wife Rachelle Short, attended in a number of strange and eye-catching wigs.

It was declared a mis-trial, but the producer was retried in 2009 and found guilty – after a string of other women came forward to reveal how he had threatened them at gunpoint too.

He received a sentence of 19-years-to-life, swapping expensive suits for a prison jumpsuit.

Mr Escobar told The Sun how Spector had his teeth knocked out in prison.

He said: “He was really scared in prison, as anyone would be.

“It was a culture shock to him because he went from living in this big mansion with people waiting on him and his ex-wife Rachelle, who became a pseudo-gofer for him.

“He told me the jail was an unbearable snake pit and how nasty the guards were. Prison put him in such a depression. He would just sit in a wheelchair and look at a wall.

“Around six years ago he mouthed off to someone while he was outside getting air. They hit him and knocked a couple of his teeth implants out.

“After that he didn’t go out anymore, he just stayed in that cell, ate oatmeal, stared at the wall and talked to himself. He basically cut himself off from everybody and everything.”


Following Spector’s death, Lana’s family told The Sun they were “in shock”.

Her mother Donna released a tribute to her daughter, saying: “Lana 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.”

 

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