On February 3rd, 2003, inside the Pyrenees Castle—the Alhambra, California mansion of record producer Phil Spector, whose legacy includes work with The Ronettes, Ike & Tina Turner, The Beatles, and The Ramones—a murder was committed. The victim? 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson, who had gotten her start in the business with a minor role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and was best known in the 80s for starring in sword and sorcery films. The cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the mouth.
Earlier that day, Clarkson and Spector had met at Los Angeles's House of Blues. Clarkson left the venue with Spector in his limousine, to be driven to his mansion. The pair went inside while his driver stayed in the car. Roughly an hour later, the driver heard the sound of a gun going off. He then spotted Spector leaving his home out the back door, gun in hand. In the driver's official statement, Spector was quoted as then saying, "I think I just shot her."
Spector delivered a different account of the events when asked later. He claimed that Clarkson's death was an accident after she "kissed the gun." Oddly enough, a forensic examination did not find Spector's fingerprints on the gun. However, when Spector went to trial for Clarkson's murder in 2007, the prosecution highlighted the fact that Spector had previously pulled a gun on four other women. On these occasions, Spector had been intoxicated and grew agitated after he was romantically rejected. He pulled the gun on these women to keep them from walking out on him. These testimonies were used to develop a common pattern that conflicted with Spector's story that Clarkson's death was a mistake.
Clever arguments aside, the trial did not run smoothly—as seen by all, considering the proceedings were televised. At the beginning of the trial, the district attorney's office accused the defense forensic expert, Henry Lee, of hiding crucial evidence that could allegedly prove Spector's guilt. Six months later, a hung jury found Judge Fidler declaring a mistrial.
As the second—now untelevised—trial proceeded, Spector's defense was centered on the assertion that Clarkson died by accidental suicide. As such, counsel didn't bring up a severe head trauma that Spector had suffered from a car crash in 1974. However, studies have shown a connection between traumatic brain injuries and an increase in violent crime—more so when in conjunction with substance abuse.
After 19 days, the jury returned with a guilty verdict. Spector was found guilty not only for murder in the second degree, but for using a firearm in the commission of a crime, resulting in four more years being added to his sentence. Spector was to serve 19 years to life behind bars, and fate would see it being the latter. On January 16th, 2021, Spector died in a prison hospital from complications due to COVID-19, three years before he would have been eligible for parole.
Though justice may have been served, that didn't necessarily bring Lana's mother, Donna Clarkson, peace. Donna says that, throughout the trial, Spector's defense manipulated the truth. Her daughter was portrayed in court as a washed up, B-movie has-been who took her own life in a depression spiral. However, Donna insists that the very idea that Lana would ever take her life is ludicrous.
Friends and family have described Lana as a big personality full of light, humor, love, and joy. While an injury to her wrist resulted in a professional setback, Donna says that Lana was still constantly working. But the courtroom slander and media circus had its effect—few headlines and coverage on Lana's murderer failed to have some kind of disparaging remark about the late actress's prospects.
But now Donna Clarkson has helped to set the record straight. On Friday, November 4th, Showtime premiered its latest docuseries, Spector. With the participation of Lana's mother, directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce trace back through the vital moments of Spector's life—his troubled childhood, his rocketing success in the music industry, his mental decline. The sensationalized interest in Spector's initial trial meant that several documentaries and highly fictionalized films spun out of the case. But this docuseries has something others don't: an honest approach at humanizing his victim.
Viewers are able to see Lana Clarkson as a complete human being. She is shown not only as a determined and talented actress, but as a good friend and vibrant spirit. The series returns dignity to the memory of a woman who deserves celebration rather than endless derision. Most importantly, she is not a mere footnote in the salacious story of Spector's whirlwind.
All four episodes of Spector are available now for streaming on Showtime. For a sneak peek before you dive in, check out the trailer below!