Clarkson was born in Long Beach, California to Donna and James M. Clarkson and was raised in the hills of Sonoma County, California. She has a brother, Jessee J. Clarkson, and a sister, Fawn. While living in Northern California, she attended Cloverdale High School and Pacific Union College Preparatory School. During the Christmas season of 1978 and after her father's death, Clarkson's family returned to Southern California and settled in the Los Angeles region of San Fernando Valley. After Clarkson's family moved back to Los Angeles County, she pursued a career in entertainment industry as a performer and fashion model.
In the 1980s she volunteered weekly at the AIDS charity Project Angel Food which delivers food for those in Los Angeles disabled by HIV or AIDS, at a time when the disease was greatly feared by the general public.
In 1987, Clarkson appeared in the John Landis spoof Amazon Women on the Moon. Following that, Clarkson starred in Roger Corman's Barbarian Queen sequel, Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back, though the plots and characters bore no resemblance to the other film. Filmed in Mexico, the movie featured mud-wrestling Amazon women, magic sceptres, and (in homage to its predecessor) Clarkson's character stretched on a torture rack, her naked body writhing in agony as she is slowly tortured to death. Clarkson received star billing in the film which went directly to video. Although sales of the video were low, Corman did manage to turn a profit.
In 1990, she starred as a supporting character in the period horror film Haunting of Morella as the evil attendant to a young woman played by model/actress Nicole Eggert. In the film, Clarkson played a dominating lesbian character who tries to resurrect the spirit of a witch burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials. A final film for Corman, Vice Girls, followed in 1996, in which Clarkson played one of three cops who posed as strippers to catch a serial killer.
On February 3, 2003, Clarkson was found dead in the mansion belonging to record Producer Phil Spector. In the early hours of that morning, she met Spector while working at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. They left the House of Blues in Spector's limousine and drove to his mansion. Spector and Clarkson went inside while his driver waited outside in the car. About an hour later, the driver heard a gunshot before Spector exited his house through the back door with a gun. He was quoted as saying, according to affidavits, "I think I just shot her." Spector later said Clarkson's death was an "accidental suicide" and that she "kissed the gun".
Spector was tried for the murder of Clarkson in 2007. On September 26, 2007, a mistrial was declared due to a hung jury ten to two for conviction. He was tried again for second-degree murder on October 20, 2008. On April 13, 2009, the jury found Spector guilty of murdering Clarkson. Spector was sentenced on May 29, 2009 to 19 years to life in state prison.