LOS ANGELES - Candid friends of Phil Spector admit that the bodyguards who prowled the night with the famed record producer were really in the business of protecting him from one dangerous person - himself. So it's telling that, five months ago, Spector apparently decided that the wild life was so far behind him that he didn't need a shadow.
He came to that decision at a shining, hopeful moment in his life. His friends say he had been sober for three years and far removed from the old days when he was notorious as a raging, erratic genius with a penchant for guns. He also was giddy at a chance to return to the studio and reclaim his legacy after two decades in music industry exile.
His friend, divorce attorney Marvin M. Mitchelson, now rues the moment Spector, 62, let the bodyguard leave his Alhambra mansion. "I can't help thinking," Mitchelson said, "that if he still had a bodyguard, none of all this would have happened."
Death of an actress
What has happened is the death of Lana Clarkson, an actress who also worked as a hostess at the House of Blues on Hollywood's Sunset Strip.
Sheriff's investigators say the 40-year-old actress was shot in the face and found in the foyer of Spector's home about 5 a.m. Feb. 3. A short time later, Spector was arrested and subdued by police (law enforcement sources say a Taser-like device was used) and booked on suspicion of first-degree murder. He is free on $1 million bail. More than one gun was recovered at the scene, the sources say.
The events of that Monday morning remain hazy, but based on two dozen interviews with friends, authorities and others, it appears that his recovery was faltering in recent weeks.
A chance to produce a comeback album had fizzled, and he acknowledged that he was on medication for schizophrenia. It also appears that he was drinking again, at least in the hours before his arrest.
The owner and staff of Dan Tana's, one of his favorite restaurants, have confirmed that Spector had two rum cocktails there between 12:30 and 2 a.m. Sources also say he then went to the House of Blues, where he bought a Bacardi 151 rum drink. House of Blues employees have said they saw Clarkson leave with Spector in his chauffeur-driven Mercedes S430 about 2:30 a.m.
Friends grimly greet the news of him drinking again. "I haven't seen him drink in years," said Bob Merlis, the longtime music industry publicist
In January, though, Mick Brown interviewed Spector for the Sunday Telegraph of London and his article presents an edgy Spector, one more reminiscent of his state in the 1980s or 1990s.
"I have not been well," Spector told Brown. "I was crippled inside. Emotionally. Insane is a hard word. I wasn't insane but I wasn't well enough to function as a regular part of society, so I didn't. I chose not to. I have devils inside me."
Spector also said he takes medication for schizophrenia although he "wouldn't say I'm schizophrenic. ... I have a bipolar personality, which is strange. I'm my own worst enemy."
Still, he said he was benefiting from the medicine: "I'm a completely different person than I was three months ago, six months ago, nine months ago."
A man locked away
The Telegraph article presents him as a Norma Desmond-type, a show business eccentric in a shaggy toupee, locked behind mansion walls. The piece was published a week ago Sunday, less than 24 hours before his arrest.
The producer also had been hearing his name in the news in the days before that, with coverage of Paul McCartney's plan to excise all of Spector's contributions to the Beatles' Let it Be album and reissue it.
There have been other recent changes in Spector's life. Besides the departure of his bodyguard, former police officer Jay Romaine, another of his familiar circle was gone. The producer divorced Janice Spector more than a decade ago, but she had remained his secretary.
That changed in the past few months, Mitchelson said. She could not be reached for comment. She and the producer had twin children, Nicole, now 20, and Philip Jr., who died of leukemia at age 10.
Mark Ribowsky, author of the unauthorized Spector biography He's a Rebel, said an alarming theme ran through much of it. "It's always guns," Ribowsky said. "Guns. Stories about him pointing a gun at somebody. He made it the 'in' thing: guns, dark sunglasses, bodyguards. He was the first mad genius of rock 'n' roll."
Last week, Johnny Ramone recalled how Spector used guns to exert control in the 1980s. "We were prisoners at his house, he wouldn't let us leave," said the Ramones member. "Dee Dee [Ramone] said something, and he pulled out a gun and started waving it around. ... He kept saying, 'You're not leaving, nobody's leaving.'"
But much of the lore is hyperbole, said Dan Kessel, a guitarist who appeared on many Spector projects, including ones with Cher and Leonard Cohen.
Kessel "practically lived with Phil for seven years" but now sees him mostly at Spector's annual bowling parties. Those parties have been a Spector metaphor - they used to be wild scenes but in recent years have taken on the bonhomie of a company picnic.
"A wild rock guy? Right," Kessel said. "And do you think Alice Cooper goes to sleep with the snakes? A lot of the stuff in the old days was just show biz, theater."
Time of hope
The gloom that now surrounds Spector is in stark contrast to the bubbly time in September when he let go a bodyguard.
The producer had just traveled to London for a gig that he was confident would reinstall his reputation. The new group was the British quartet Starsailor, the first rock band that he had guided since the Ramones in 1981. But his comeback has not materialized.
Mitchelson, who has won record divorce judgments in cases with names such as Jagger and Dylan, also has film projects on the side. One is Wall of Sound, the Phil Spector story. On the last page the main character returns to Abbey Road in triumph with a new band.
"That was the last scene, the happy ending, the comeback," Mitchelson said. "But now I just don't know how it's all going to end."
Geoff Boucher is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.