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The Hit Man?

An actress is shot; music giant Phil Spector is arrested.

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Once upon a time, producer Phil Spector was everywhere in the music biz, the man with the magic touch on everything from the Crystals’ ”Da Doo Ron Ron” and the Ronettes’ ”Be My Baby” to the Beatles’ Let It Be and John Lennon’s Imagine. But for the past two decades, Spector, 62, has existed behind a wall of mystery. Reclusive, paranoid, and eccentric, he seemed to have become a virtual Phil Specter, a shadowy figure living a Howard Hughes-like existence within the gated grounds of his palatial home in the otherwise seedy L.A. suburb of Alhambra, Calif. On Feb. 3, the 1989 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee was dramatically thrust back into the limelight when he was arrested in the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson, 40.

Around 5 a.m., L.A. detectives responded to a 911 call from the grounds of Spector’s estate, where they discovered Clarkson’s lifeless body in the foyer. (At press time, authorities had not disclosed the nature of her wounds or the type of gun used.) Spector was taken into custody and later released on $1 million bail. He is due to be arraigned March 3. His attorney, famed O.J. Simpson Dream Teamer Robert Shapiro, had no comment on the charges.

According to wire reports, Spector and Clarkson met the previous night at the House of Blues on Sunset Strip, where she was working as a hostess, and were taken to Spector’s home in his limo. His driver reportedly called 911 after hearing gun shots.

A six-foot-tall California native, Clarkson had been a guest on numerous TV series over the years; her small, attention-grabbing part as the unexpectedly hot wife of biology teacher Mr. Vargas in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High led to B-picture cult celebrity for roles in movies like 1985’s Roger Corman-produced Barbarian Queen. Two days before her death, she had appeared at the Creation Comic Book and Pop Culture Convention in Pasadena, Calif. ”She was a very together lady,” says convention exhibitor Bill Liebowitz. ”My wife and I were watching the TV when they identified the victim as Lana Clarkson. We said, ‘We hope there’s two of them.”’

Spector’s arrest provided a dark new twist on a troubled life. Despite his success — he is the man responsible for the heavily orchestrated production style dubbed the Wall of Sound — Spector was a man plagued by demons. In a rare interview conducted four weeks ago in London’s Daily Telegraph, he said: ”I would say I’m probably relatively insane, to an extent. I take medication for schizophrenia, but I wouldn’t say I’m schizophrenic. But I have a bipolar personality, which is strange. I’m my own worst enemy. I have devils inside that fight me.”

Indeed, tales of Spector’s erratic behavior — often alcohol-fueled — have been an open secret for years. In his 1997 memoir, Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones, the late Dee Dee Ramone writes about Spector brandishing a pistol and ”level[ing] his gun at my heart” during the recording of the Ramones’ 1980 disc End of the Century (the last full album project Spector completed). ”Phil was very difficult to work with,” confirms Johnny Ramone. ”Am I surprised he was accused of murder? No. If you’re gonna carry guns and wave them around and you’ve got a volatile personality and you’re putting whatever into your system — well, when something comes up that you’re not happy with, you might use [a gun].”