Phil Spector, the groundbreaking music producer who developed the Wall of Sound in the early 1960s and was convicted of second-degree murder in 2009, has died. Spector had been hospitalized with COVID-19 a month ago, then improved enough to be taken back to a California prison, TMZ reports. He was returned to the hospital after he had trouble breathing and died there Saturday. Spector was 81. The prison system attributed his death to natural causes but said the official cause will be determined later. A member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Spector transformed music, but he's also known for the shooting death of Lana Clarkson, an actress, at his mansion in 2003. The reclusive Spector was sentenced to 19 years in prison. Prosecutors told jurors Spector was a misogynist who played "Russian roulette with the lives of women." The two trials—the first jury was deadlocked—were a sensation, and Al Pacino played Spector in a film.
Spector, who was born in the Bronx, had his first hit while in high school—"To Know Him is To Love Him" by the Teddy Bears. He became known for a series of hits by the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love and the Righteous Brothers. The arrangements were packed and orchestral, per Rolling Stone, and Spector called them "little symphonies for the kids." To get the effect, he layered guitars, horns, keyboards, strings, and percussion, with several instruments sometimes playing the same note at once. He worked with the famed group of studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew and lead singers including Darlene Love and Ronnie Spector on such songs as "Then He Kissed Me," "Da Doo Ron Ron," and "Be My Baby." He produced for the members of the Beatles and handled the group's last studio album, Let It Be. Spector's influence was pervasive. "He’s timeless," Brian Wilson once said. "Phil's greatest lesson was sound," Bruce Springsteen said in 2012. "Sound is its own language." (Read more obituary stories.)