Producer Phil Spector, who revolutionized music in the 1960s and 1970s, died of natural causes in a prison hospital at 6:35 p.m. on Saturday, January 16, at the age of 81 after being hospitalized with COVID-19 complications. He was sentenced to 19 years to life for murder in 2009.
“Phillip Spector was pronounced deceased of natural causes at 6:35 p.m. on Saturday, January 16, 2021, at an outside hospital. His official cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner in the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office,” the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.
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His production style, known as the Wall of Sound, resulted in a string of hits in the 1960s and the 1970s for artists like the Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, Darlene Love, the Righteous Brothers and the Ronettes. In 1989, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On February 3, 2003, Spector was arrested after actress Lana Clarkson was found shot to death in his mansion in Alhambra, California. He told Esquire in July 2003 that Clarkson’s death was an “accidental suicide” and that she “kissed the gun”. After a 2007 mistrial, Spector was retried in 2009 and convicted of second-degree murder.
Born Harvey Phillip Spector in the Bronx, his father killed himself when Spector was eight. After moving to Los Angeles with his mother, he began attending Fairfax High in 1954. While studying at L.A. City College, he started hanging out at Gold Star Studios, where he would eventually make his mark.
In 1958, he recorded his first song, To Know Him Is to Love Him, with his vocal trio the Teddy Bears. The single hit No. 1 a few months later, selling an estimated 1.4 million copies. At 19, Spector headed to New York, where he co-wrote Ben E. King’s 1960 hit Spanish Harlem. In 1962 he produced the Crystals’ He’s a Rebel, which hit No. 1 and kicked of a string of hits.
After a series of misfires and comebacks in the 1970s, he produced his last album while free on bail in 2010 for his then-wife, Rachelle. The couple divorced in 2019. Spector is survived by three children adopted during his marriage to Ronnie Spector, and a daughter born to ex-girlfriend Janis Zavala.
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