Phil Spector, one of the most influential and successful record producers in rock ’n’ roll, who generated a string of hits in the early 1960s defined by the lavish instrumental treatment known as the wall of sound, but whose life was upended when he was sentenced to prison for the murder of a woman at his home, died on Saturday. He was 81.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement that he had died “at an outside hospital.” The statement did not give a cause.
Mr. Spector had been serving a prison sentence since 2009 for the murder of Lana Clarkson, a nightclub hostess whom he had taken to his home after a night of drinking in 2003. The Los Angeles police found her slumped in a chair in the foyer, dead from a single bullet wound to the head.
Mr. Spector scored his first No. 1 hit when he was still in his teens. With the Teddy Bears, a group he formed with two school friends, he recorded the dreamy ballad “To Know Him Is to Love Him.” Released in August 1958, it sold more than a million records after the group appeared on the popular TV show “American Bandstand,” with Mr. Spector playing guitar and singing backup.
His 13 Top 10 singles included some of the quintessential “girl group” songs of the era: “He’s a Rebel,” “Uptown,” “Then He Kissed Me” and “Da Doo Ron Ron”by the Crystals, and “Be My Baby” and “Walking in the Rain” by the Ronettes.
For the Righteous Brothers he produced “Unchained Melody” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” a No. 1 hit that became the 20th century’s most-played song on radio and television, according to BMI.
Mr. Spector single-handedly created the image of the record producer as auteur, a creative force equal to or even greater than his artists, with an instantly identifiable aural brand.
“There were songwriter-producers before him, but no one did the whole thing like Phil,” the songwriter and producer Jerry Leiber told Rolling Stone in 2005. Mr. Leiber, who died in 2011, and Mr. Spector served a brief but crucial apprenticeship together at Atlantic Records.
Mr. Spector was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. A boxed set of his recordings from 1968 to 1969, “Phil Spector: Back to Mono,” was released by Phil Spector Records in 1991.
Information on his survivors was not immediately available.
In the early hours of Feb. 3, 2003, Mr. Spector, after drinking heavily, drove to his home in Alhambra, Calif., with Lana Clarkson, a struggling actress he had just met at the House of Blues, where she worked as a hostess. His chauffeur, waiting behind the house, later testified that he heard a popping sound, after which Mr. Spector emerged, a revolver in his hand, and said, “I think I killed somebody.”
The police found Ms. Clarkson’s slumped in a chair in the foyer, fatally shot in the mouth with a single bullet.
Mr. Spector was charged with second-degree murder. His defense argued that Ms. Clarkson, depressed about her failed acting career, had committed suicide.
A first trial, in 2007, ended in a hung jury. Mr. Spector was retried in 2009 and found guilty. He received a sentence of 19 years to life, which he was serving at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton. Because of his declining health, he had been moved from the California State Prison in Corcoran in 2014.
“He added a drama to music that I don’t think existed before him,” the record producer Jimmy Iovine told Rolling Stone in 1990. “Making dark records and pop records are separate things. When you can combine the two worlds, you’ve achieved greatness. He not only achieved it, he basically invented it.” [NY Times]