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Let’s stop calling Phil Spector a ‘flawed genius’ when he was a murderer


by Jennifer McShane
18th Jan 2021

Despite the headlines from Rolling Stone, the BBC, CNN and others, the producer was, first and foremost, a murderer. Not saying this straight off the bat belittles Lana Clarkson, the actress he shot and killed in cold blood. In this way, our fascination with ‘famous’ convicted killers continues. And it’s wholly immoral and wrong, writes Jennifer McShane


The headlines began without any mention of the murder before the edits. CNN tweeted: “Grammy-winning music producer Phil Spector dies of natural causes,” before revising the headline. Reuters’ tweet mentioned Spector’s murder conviction, but made it seem like an afterthought: “Influential rock producer Phil Spector, who changed pop music and was convicted of killing actress Lana Clarkson, died at the age of 81.”

He was “influential.” A “gifted yet flawed genius.” To call his capacity to kill a “flaw” might be stretching it just a little. To be frank, it’s enraging. It’s wrong. It completely disrespects the memory of Lana and the other women in his life that he didn’t kill, but ensured they were physiologically abused.

The whole thing reeks of the Charles Manson treatment by the press where a fascination with the killers ensures the victims barely get a mention. 

No one is saying Spector didn’t have a substantial talent (his track record of hit singles is the proof) and he had his demons. Mental illness. Drugs. An “obsession with guns” but to focus on any of that ahead of his crime is unjust.

A history of abuse

For those that don’t know, Ronnie Spector (born Veronica Bennett) survived an abusive marriage to Spector, whom she met when he took her band the Ronettes (Ronnie, sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley) under his wing at the beginning of their career. Spector helped catapult the group in 1963 with the release of By My Baby (the opening number in Dirty Dancing for those that are too young to remember) and made her a star.

But it came with a price. He couldn’t bear it when she became a star. Became bigger than him. After Spector married him in 1968, the Ronettes disbanded and he kept Spector a virtual prisoner in their Beverly Hills mansion, which he allegedly surrounded with barbed wire and guard dog and apparently “installed a gold coffin with a glass top in the basement, promising that he would kill her and display her corpse if she ever left him,” according to her official biography. She got away. Her star shone brightly.

The shunning of female victims

In 2003, actress Lana Clarkson did not, unfortunately, escape his clutches. She was tragically found dead with a gunshot wound in Spector’s home in California at just 40 years old.

He claimed that she had accidentally shot herself or took her own life, but it was a lie. After two trials, he was convicted of second-degree murder and given a sentence of 19 years to life.

During his trials, the court also heard from four women who claimed Spector had threatened them with guns in the past when they had spurned his advances.

Lana was hugely talented, an actress and model who was in now cult films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Night Court, Three’s Company, Knight Rider. She was more than a victim, devoted to causes that would help others  – in the 1980s she volunteered weekly at an AIDS charity Project which delivered food for those disabled by HIV or AIDS, at a time when the disease was greatly feared by the general public – living a full life before Spector murdered her, apparently after only two hours in his company.

Yet her name is forever marred because of her killer. It was he who marred her – and not the other way around as some of Spector’s fans have reportedly alluded to.

And still now, years later, we know this almost ‘shunning’ of female victims remains a real problem.

The Staircase, The Keepers, Making a Murderer, these are three of the most popular series on Netflix, all of which the killers seem to take centre stage and the female victims to a lesser extent, drive the narrative; the focus is, more often than not, less on the women who were killed and more what motivated the (usually male) killer. The ‘Hot Serial Killer’ narrative is, depressingly, very much a thing.

Related: The problem with the obsession over Charles Manson’s ‘girls’

Spector should be held to account like anyone else by the media, the public, as he was the law, famous music producer or not.

Lana deserves better.

Main photograph: @kevinabosch