Phil Spector, the eccentric music producer whose “Wall of Sound” recording method transformed the industry and was later convicted of murder, died of natural causes Saturday, California state prison officials said. He was 81.
Spector was pronounced dead at 6:35 p.m. on Saturday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement. The medical examiner for the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office will announce the official cause of death at a later date.
Spector was sentenced in 2009 to 19 years to life after being convicted for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson. She was found dead in Spector’s home with a gunshot wound through the roof of her mouth. He maintained her death was an “accidental suicide.”
He served the last few years of his sentence in a prison hospital east of Stockton, California.
The Bronx-born Spector began his career in music as a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, penning the No. 1 single “To Know Him Is to Love Him” with the pop band the Teddy Bears in 1958. Two years later, at the age of 21, he cofounded Phillies Records, making him the youngest owner of a record label in history at the time.
In the decade that followed, he wrote or produced records for some of the biggest names in music, including the Ronettes, the Crystals, and Ike & Tina Turner. After briefly retiring from the music industry in 1966, he returned three years later for what became a milestone in his career — producing the Beatles’ album “Let It Be,” as well as solo records by John Lennon and George Harrison. Within a few years, he produced 18 Top 10 singles for various artists, including, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” (for the Righteous Brothers), “The Long and Winding Road” (for the Beatles) and “My Sweet Lord” (for Harrison).
A near-fatal accident in 1974 in which he was thrown through the windshield of his car left Spector with over 300 stitches to his face and more than 400 to the back of his head. He slowly began to withdraw from public life and it was the start of what became his trademark look of wearing bizarre wigs.
His reemergence in 1977 with the Leonard Cohen album “Death of a Ladies’ Man” (which Spector produced and co-wrote) drew criticism and controversy because of the dramatic change of style and sound to what Cohen fans were used to. He received a similar reaction to his producing of the Ramones’ album “End of the Century.” It was during this time that Spector began to show signs of strange behavior, with Dee Dee Ramone claiming he once pulled a gun on her when she tried to leave a session.
In the two decades that followed, Spector largely remained inactive, only emerging a few times, including to co-produce Yoko Ono’s “Season on Glass” shortly after Lennon’s death. In 1989, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1997.