Mass murder mastermind and cult leader Charles Manson has died at California’s Kern County hospital of natural causes, according to the Associated Press. He was 83.
Manson was born in Cincinnati and served two jail terms in California in the 1950s and ’60s, first for stealing cars and then for forging checks. After living for seven years behind bars for the latter crime, Manson was released in March 1967. He quickly set himself up as the leader of a cult-cum-commune which would become known as the “Manson Family” and was based at the Spahn Movie Ranch in Los Angeles County. At the same time, Manson was attempting to break into the music business as a singer-songwriter and succeeded in befriending Dennis Wilson, drummer with the Beach Boys. That band recorded a modified version of Manson’s song “Cease to Exist” under the title “Never Learn Not to Live.” The song was released as the B-side to the group’s 1968 single “Bluebirds over the Mountain,” although the track was credited solely to Wilson.
In August 1969, members of the Manson Family killed seven people, following the orders of their leader. The victims included Sharon Tate, actress and wife of director Roman Polanski. She was eight months pregnant at the time of her murder. Manson hoped the murders would lead to an apocalyptic race war, which he called “Helter Skelter” after the Beatles song of the same name. The killings remain among the most infamous crimes in American history.
In 1971, Manson was found guilty of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death. In 1972, the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the California supreme court and Manson’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
In 1974, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi published a book about the Manson case called Helter Skelter, which was turned into 1976 television film starring Steve Railsback as Manson. In the ensuing decades, numerous musicians, books, television shows, and films have drawn upon Manson and his followers for inspiration. The singer Marilyn Manson takes his name from the murderer while Family member Linda Kasabian provided the inspiration for the moniker of British rock band Kasabian. Guns N’ Roses included a cover of another Manson-written song, “Look at Your Game, Girl,” on the group’s 1993 album, The Spaghetti Incident?. Manson has also been referenced in a diverse array of pop culture endeavors, from an episode of South Park entitled “Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson!” to the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical Assassins, in which Family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme sings a love ballad to the murderer. The recent David Duchovny-led NBC crime drama Aquarius centered on Manson and the Family. Other films about Manson specifically have included The Manson Family (2003) and a remake of Helter Skelter in 2004. In July of this year, Variety reported that Quentin Tarantino was developing a film about the Manson murders. The director would later tell IndieWire that “It’s not Charles Manson, it’s 1969.” Countless books and documentaries have also examined the story of Manson and his followers.
—Maureen Lenker contributed to this report