If Spector's story is a tragedy, what about the woman he killed?
His trials masked the career of the fated actress more famous in death than in life
Sunday 31 May 2009
Lana Clarkson always dreamed of being a star. She nearly made it in life, but it was in death that she achieved the most undesirable lasting fame of all. Her shooting, at the home of the music legend Phil Spector, put her face on front pages around the world. But even this form of headlining was not to last. As Spector was sentenced on Friday to 19 years for the second-degree murder of Clarkson, the one-time B-movie actress had long been reduced to a walk-on part, playing second fiddle even to the succession of daft wigs that Spector sported during his six years of legal tribulations.
As the man who produced many of the immortal hits of the Sixties and Seventies headed to prison, with his lawyers vowing a feisty appeal, it seems, at the very least, good manners to remember the woman who will now for ever be immortalised by her death rather than by anything she did on screen.
Clarkson, who made her screen debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, was all but 6ft tall, blond, athletic, and had no objection to appearing partially clad. She was thus perfect for playing sword-wielding fantasy action heroes who shed their clothes at appropriate moments. She excelled in such nonsense as Roger Corman's Barbarian Queen, and had something of a cult following. She was also a weekly volunteer for Aids charities, and a tireless attraction at comic-book conventions. But her longed-for breakthrough into comedy never happened, and, as she passed 30, her film career seriously stalled.
Then, in January 2003, she was reduced to taking a job as a cocktail bar hostess at the House of Blues nightclub on Sunset Strip. Less than a month later, as she worked in the VIP lounge, she was introduced to a client she was told was a Big Somebody, although his name meant nothing to her.
For whatever reason – and discussing the techniques he used to achieve his famed "Wall of Sound" on such hits as the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and The Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" would not have been among them – Clarkson agreed at the end of her shift to accompany Spector back to his home. A few hours later, she died when a gun was forced into her mouth and the trigger was pulled. Spector's chauffeur told police he heard a gunshot, saw Spector emerge holding a gun and say: "I think I killed somebody." A very dead Clarkson was found slumped in a chair by the front door. The music millionaire was duly charged.
Thus began the tortuous legal journey that ended with Friday's sentencing. Defence lawyers came and went with the passing seasons. A first trial went on for six months before being abandoned after jurors failed to reach a verdict, and then came a second trial, itself lasting five months. The prosecution case was built on Spector's flakiness and his track record of waving guns at women when they tried to leave his presence. The defence claimed Clarkson shot herself, and made much of the lack of forensic evidence against the music producer.
Spector has no shortage of money for an appeal. If it fails, the 69-year-old will not be released until he is 88. But then Lana Clarkson did not even make half that age.
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