Shots in the Dark
Spector was in for a rough ride. After parting with his dining companion, he met up with Lana Clarkson, 40, a B-movie actress best known for starring in such films as 1985's Barbarian Queen. What happened next remains unclear, but at 5 a.m. a 911 call (reportedly made by the chauffeur) summoned police to Spector's $14 million estate, dubbed the Pyrenees Castle, in Alhambra, Calif. There officers encountered Spector's Mercedes, with its driver's-side door ajar, parked outside the property's gated entrance. Inside the house's foyer, they found Clarkson lying dead in a pool of blood.
A gun believed to be the murder weapon was recovered from the premises, and around 6 a.m. Spector was taken to Alhambra city jail, where he was booked on suspicion of murder. With formal charges still pending, an arraignment hearing (where Spector will enter a plea) is scheduled for March 3. "He's a little shook up," Spector's associate producer Michelle Blaine told reporters after Spector posted $1 million bond later that same day and headed with his lawyer Robert Shapiro (one of O.J. Simpson's former defense attorneys) to an undisclosed location. "I'm shocked by all this. He's not that kind of guy."
At least not recently. Spector, 62, has been hailed as a pop genius/idol-maker, responsible for crafting such rock classics as "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Be My Baby" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," as well as for revolutionizing music with his signature "wall of sound," which blended dense layers of vocals and multiple instrumentals into a kind of pop symphony. But he's also been vilified as a volatile, eccentric control freak who spent the 1980s hiding out in a Beverly Hills mansion where he kept firearms that he coordinated with outfits. Spector reportedly brandished a pistol while recording with John Lennon (for whom he produced 1971's Imagine album). In 1998 Spector's ex-wife and onetime Ronette singer, Ronnie Spector, who was suing him for back royalties, testified in court that "he threatened me many times with guns." And Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramone once accused Spector of pulling a gun on him in 1980 during sessions for End of the Century, the last major album Spector produced. "A lot of these things," former band member Marky Ramone told FOX News Feb. 3, "were alcohol-induced."
And had their roots, no doubt, in the impresario's troubled childhood. When Spector was 9, his father, Benjamin, an ironworker, committed suicide. His mother, Bertha, moved the family from The Bronx to L.A., and Spector poured his pain into music: At 17, he wrote his first hit song, "To Know Him Is to Love Him," titled after his father's epitaph.
The tune sold 2.5 million copies for the Teddy Bears in 1958, and within four years Spector was a millionaire running his own music company, Philles Records. But after a string of hits for acts including Darlene Love, the Righteous Brothers and the Ronettes, his sound fell out of favor. By the 1970s Spector was semi-retired, taking comfort in alcohol while working on the occasional album (the Beatles' 1970 Let It Be), and increasingly distanced himself from the world and his five children. The reason for his seclusion, he told the Los Angeles Times in 1991, was "that I needed to get a focus."
He also needed help for what he believed was mental illness. "I would say I'm probably relatively insane," he said in a rare interview with London's Sunday Telegraph Magazine last month, adding that he was on drugs for schizophrenia and has "a bipolar personality." Yet there were signs Spector had stabilized. He quit drinking three years ago and recently had been dating Nancy Sinatra. He also returned to work, producing two tracks for the British band Starsailor. "The new Phil Spector," says divorce lawyer Marvin Mitchelson, a pal, "is a mild-mannered, sensitive human being."
In short, just the kind of guy Clarkson was looking for. A native of California's Napa Valley, the 5'11" blonde, says pal Courtney Kanner, 23, "was very spiritual," volunteering for Project Angel Food, which delivers meals to AIDS patients, and burning incense in her one-bedroom Venice, Calif., cottage. She was also trying to revive her acting career, which consisted mainly of commercials (including spots for Kmart and Playtex) and appearances at comic book conventions, where she signed copies of her Barbarian Queen posters.
To help make ends meet, Clarkson took a job two weeks ago as a hostess in the VIP section of the House of Blues nightclub—a Spector hangout—where hours spent standing in high heels left her "complaining about her feet," says comic book store owner Bill Liebowitz. Still, the job had its perks. "She liked meeting famous people," Kanner says. "But she could be naive and think people didn't have any badness to them." That quality may well have cost Clarkson her life.
Lorenzo Benet, Robyn Flans, Michael Fleeman and Frank Swertlow in Los Angeles and Sara Hammel in London