A straight-to-video B-movie starlet, actress Lana Clarkson might have gone down a mere footnote in Hollywood history, were it not for her star-making turn in death. Best remembered as the heroine of Roger Corman's low-budget "Barbarian Queen" movies, this leggy, attractive blond sadly never achieved the respect or fame she had hoped for in life. Ironically, though, Clarkson gained immortality -and a place in the annals of Hollywood Babylon - as the result of her mysterious shooting death in 2003.
Born on April 5, 1962, Lana Jean Clarkson was a native of Long Beach, CA. In 1967, Clarkson and her family moved north, eventually settling in Cloverdale, a city in Northwest California. Raised in the majestic hills of Sonoma County, Clarkson grew up a country girl with a passion for nature. An avid horseback rider and natural athlete, the 5'11" Clarkson played basketball for Cloverdale High School, but her lifelong dream was to one day become a famous actress. In 1978, Clarkson and her family moved back to Los Angeles. There, Clarkson began modeling. Over the course of her brief, but successful, modeling career, Clarkson worked on several high-budget photo shoots and got to travel around the world - but acting was really where her heart was.
In 1982, Clarkson made her screen debut in director Amy Heckerling's seminal coming-of-age high school comedy, "Fast Times at Ridgmont High." Though originally only hired as an extra for the movie, Clarkson found herself at the right place at the right time, landing a last-minute speaking part as the trophy wife of oddball science teacher, Mr. Vargas (Vincent Schiavelli). While Clarkson had only two lines, it was enough to get her into the Screen Actors Guild. From there, Clarkson hop-scotched into several guest starring roles on such popular series as "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986), "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87), "Laverne and Shirley" (ABC, 1976-1983), "CHiPs" (NBC, 1977-1983) and "Happy Days" (ABC, 1974-1984). While most of these roles were admittedly minor, Clarkson was employed fairly consistently - a rare feat indeed in Hollywood. Clarkson's later television work included appearances on "Night Court" (NBC, 1984-1992), "The Jeffersons" (CBS, 1975-1985), "Wings" (NBC, 1990-97), "Who's the Boss?" (ABC, 1984-1992), "Knight Rider" (NBC, 1982-86) and "The A-Team" (NBC, 1983-87).
Clarkson's TV credits paved the way for her first major film role in the thriller, "Blind Date" (1982) starring Kirstie Alley. Soon after, Clarkson met famed low-budget movie producer, Roger Corman, who gave Clarkson a starring role in his action-fantasy, "Deathstalker" (1983). While hardly a cinematic masterpiece, The Los Angeles Times, at least, singled out Clarkson as being the best part of the whole movie. Clarkson's next project for Corman was "Barbarian Queen" (1985), a chintzy sword-and-sorcery fantasy filmed in Argentina. Arguably her most famous role, "Barbarian Queen" did well enough to spawn an in-name-only sequel called "Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back" (1989).
As she approached her thirties, however, Clarkson's career began to stall. An extremely difficult time for most actresses in Hollywood, Clarkson found herself competing with younger starlets and watched as the offers began to dry up. No longer able to earn a living just as an actress, Clarkson was forced to seek alternate routes of employment. In the 1990's, Clarkson began appearing at autograph shows and comic book conventions, where she was warmly received as a cult celebrity from her "Barbarian Queen" days. Buoyed by this positive reception, Clarkson became more determined than ever to revive her acting career. Taking advantage of the Internet revolution, Clarkson launched her own website to promote herself and even formed her own production company called Living Doll Productions. Unfortunately, these ventures only added to Clarkson's financial woes.
To make ends meet, she was finally forced to take a side job in 2002 at one of L.A.'s trendiest nightspots - the House of Blues. While the job did not pay much, it provided Clarkson excellent networking opportunities. As a hostess in the Foundation Room, the club's VIP lounge, Clarkson came in regular contact with celebrities and Hollywood power brokers - any one of whom, Clarkson knew, could help turn around her career. It was there that Clarkson met legendary record producer, Phil Spector - the impresario "wall of sound" hit maker behind such acts as The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers and Ike & Tina Turner. A Foundation Room regular, Spector was well known by the House of Blues staff for being highly eccentric, but unusually generous. Indeed, Spector's reputation for leaving $100 tips on $5 tabs may well have been what caught Clarkson's attention. Whatever her motives might have been, Clarkson befriended the 62-year-old Spector and got to know him personally. After her shift on Feb. 3, 2003, Spector and Clarkson left the House of Blues together, taking a limo to Spector's mansion in nearby Alhambra. The question of why Clarkson went with him and what the precise nature of their relationship was, remained unclear. What was known, however, was that Lana Clarkson would violently lose her life that early morning.
Just before dawn, around 5 a.m., local police dispatchers received a 911 call reporting a shooting. According to affidavits, when the police arrived at the address, they were surprised to find it was the home of the celebrated music producer. Inside, police found Spector standing over Clarkson's body with his hands in his pockets. When investigators asked to see his hands, he refused. Maintaining that Clarkson shot herself, Spector reportedly became belligerent when police informed him that he was under arrest. He was taken into custody at 6:09 a.m., but was soon released on a $1 million bond. Spector remained free while awaiting his trial, which was originally slated to begin on April 24, 2004, but it ended up being postponed several times. Eventually, Spector's trial was rescheduled for April 17, 2007 - three years later after it had initially been scheduled. After much internal debate, the Los Angeles Superior Court officially announced that Spector's trial would be televised - the first such high-profile trial to be so since O.J. Simpson's "trial of the century" in 1995.
During the first trial, prosecutors portrayed Spector as a dangerous man who became a "demonic maniac" when he drank and had a history of threatening women with guns if they left him. They also contended blood spatter evidence proved that Clarkson could not have shot herself nor was there any evidence that she was suicidal. They also presented testimony from five women who told of being threatened by a drunken Spector, even held hostage in his home, with a gun pointed at them and threats of death if they tried to leave. Despite this history of violence, the first trial resulted in a hung jury. Prosecutors at first seemed invested in making Spector the first star to be convicted in a major criminal case, having weathered the public embarrassments of the O. J. Simpson, Michael Jackson and Robert Blake aquittals. But after the first trial ended in a deadlock, public interest faded. The second six-month trial beginning in 2008 was played out in a near vacant courtroom with little media coveage. But in the end, Spector was found guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of the film actress; a verdict that would send him to prison for at least 18 years in lieu a successful appeal.