Former cult leader Charles Manson, 83, dies

Updated November 20, 2017 - 12:00 pm

LOS ANGELES — Charles Manson, the notorious leader of the Manson Family cult that murdered actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969, has died in a Bakersfield, Calif., hospital, the California Department of Corrections reported on Sunday. He was 83.

Manson returned to the hospital in mid-November after being hospitalized in January. He was transferred out of Corcoran State Prison, where he had been serving nine life sentences. He had been denied parole 12 times.

The shocking murders brought the carefree hippie era of the late 1960s to a dark end, with Manson and his followers becoming infamous cultural figures.

Though the murders took place nearly 50 years ago, they continued to have a hold over the popular imagination. Quentin Tarantino is currently looking for a home for his 1969-based movie project that has the events surrounding Manson as a background. The current season of “American Horror Story” portrayed the Manson family in the “Charles (Manson) in Charge” episode.

Ties to Hollywood

A career criminal from an impoverished and abusive background, Manson was first incarcerated in 1951 and by age 32 had spent half of his life behind bars.

An aspiring musician who first learned to play guitar in prison, Manson began gathering followers in San Francisco during the Summer of Love in 1967. In the short time between his 1967 prison release and his imprisonment in 1969, Manson skirted the fringes of show business, even briefly finding himself working with the number rock and roll band in America, the Beach Boys.

He became intertwined with Hollywood in 1968, when he and more than a dozen of his followers lived at the Sunset Boulevard home of Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. Manson crossed paths with several entertainment business figures, including actors and film producers intrigued by his charismatic hold on his followers and his counterculture beliefs.

Manson recorded several songs and was introduced by Wilson to other show business acquaintances, including music producer Terry Melcher, the only son of Doris Day. One of Manson’s songs, “Cease to Exist,” was reworked by the Beach Boys as “Never Learn Not To Love,” and eventually released by the band with the writing credit attributed to Dennis Wilson.

The band’s changes to his song reportedly angered Manson, who allegedly threatened Dennis Wilson with murder.

In 1968, Manson and his followers were evicted from Dennis Wilson’s home and Manson relocated his group to Spahn Movie Ranch, near Chatsworth, Calif. The locale was rich with film and TV history, and films such as King Vidor’s “Duel in the Sun” and popular TV shows such as “Bonanza” and “Zorro” had filmed there.

Murders in 1969

From their Spahn Movie Ranch base, Manson launched a killing spree in 1969 with the goal of a sparking a race war he called “Helter Skelter,” based on his interpretation of a song from the Beatles’ “White Album.”

On Aug. 9, 1969, he directed his followers to kill the 26-year-old Tate — who was pregnant and married to director Roman Polanski — and four others at the home she was renting in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.

Polanski was out of the country at the time of the Cielo Drive killings. The other victims were celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, 35; Voytek Frykowski, 32; coffee heiress Abigail Folger, 25; and Steven Parent, 18, a friend of Tate’s caretaker. The word “Pig” was written on the front door in blood.

On the following night, Manson and his followers killed Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, at their home in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. “Death to Pigs” and “Healter Skelter” were scrawled in blood at the crime scene.

Manson and more than 20 of his followers were arrested at ranches in the California desert in the following months. He and three followers — Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten — were found guilty in a trial and sentenced to death in 1971. The death sentences were commuted to life in prison in 1972 when the death penalty was abolished in California.

Film, book portrayals

Manson has been the subject of dozens of books and articles, some, like musician-writer Ed Sanders’ 1971 tome “The Family,” investigative and rich in details of the cultural moment of the murders, but many simply cut and paste jobs published to satiate the public’s curiosity about the notorious killer.

The story of the trial was re-told in the 1976 TV film, “Helter Skelter,” based on the 1974 book by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. Steve Railsback portrayed Manson. The book was adapted for a second TV movie in 2004, directed by John Gray and starring Jeremy Davies as Manson.

The events surrounding the murders were explored in numerous other movies and TV shows including NBC series “Aquarius,” indie film “Manson Family Vacation” and on “South Park.”

In 2013, James Franco announced he would play hairdresser Sebring in “Beautiful People,” though the film was never put into production.

Over the decades, pop culture references to Manson and his murderous clan have abounded, from the name of goth rocker Marilyn Manson to the alt-rock band Kasabian, named after one of his followers, Linda Kasabian.

Manson’s impact was also seen with numerous Manson Family mentions in acclaimed novelist Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 bestseller set in ’70s Los Angeles, “Inherent Vice,” while Joan Didion’s “White Album” includes an examination of the impact of Manson as well as an interview with Kasabian.

Manson again made headlines in 2015 when his fiancee at the time, Afton Elaine Burton, AKA “Star,” 53 years his junior, was reported to be planning their nuptials in order to secure a claim to his corpse, which she hoped to exploit as a commercial public display piece.

Since the murder convictions, Manson has been imprisoned at San Quentin; the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, and at Corcoran.

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