Charles Manson, the onetime aspiring musician and murderous cult leader who masterminded the killings of seven people in 1969, has died. CBS Los Angeles reports that Manson died last night after being rushed, for undisclosed medical reasons, from Corcoran State Prison to a hospital. Manson was 83.
The Manson Family’s 1969 murdering spree was a massively important cultural moment, one that exposed the dark side of the late-’60s hippie movement and, for many, signaled the end of the ’60s. After the killings, Manson explained to investigators that the Beatles had inspired him to order those deaths. Manson believed that the Beatles’ White Album — the song “Helter Skelter” in particular — included subliminal messages about a coming race war.
A onetime petty criminal who’d tried his hand at being a pimp and a burglar, Manson was released from prison in 1967, at the height of the fabled Summer Of Love. He promptly headed to San Francisco, where he hoped to become a rock star. Manson wrote a number of songs and recorded the demos with producer Phil Kaufman, but he failed to land a record deal. He also began amassing followers, mostly young women, around the same time.
Manson and his followers eventually moved in with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who’d picked them up while hitchhiking. The Beach Boys covered one of his songs, which, after some reworking, became “Never Learn Not To Love,” though they didn’t give him a writing credit. Manson, angry at not getting a record deal with the Beach Boys’ label, attempted to confront Beach Boys producer Terry Melcher. But when he arrived at Melcher’s house, he discovered that Melcher had moved out and that actress Sharon Tate had moved in. Soon afterward, Manson ordered the deaths of Tate and of the other people who were in the house with her that night.
After the murders, Manson became a point of fascination for many generations of rockers, even though his virulent racism and obvious insanity should’ve pushed him far outside of the edgy-cool category. Manson appeared on the covers of Rolling Stone and Spin. Artists like Guns N’ Roses, the Lemonheads, Rob Zombie, and Devendra Bandhart covered his songs. Marilyn Manson obviously took half of his name from the man, and Trent Reznor lived in what was once Sharon Tate’s house when he recorded The Downward Spiral.