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Useful Notes / Charles Manson

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Charles Manson, speaking Cloudcuckooland-ish maybe non-intentionally.

Charles Milles Manson (né Maddox, November 12, 1934 - November 19, 2017) was an American criminal and cult leader who in 1968, after having spent half his life in prison for various petty crimes and living in a hippie commune, befriended Dennis Wilson and listened to The Beatles' The White Album. He heard hidden messages on the album (or claimed to, at any rate) about a race war that would break out the following year, and got along with his mates, from then on known as the "Manson Family", to provoke said war — by inspiring the Family to commit (he never got his hands dirty himself) several brutal murders (including Roman Polański's pregnant wife, Sharon Tate), and leaving the message "Helter Skelter" (the name of a song on The White Album) written in blood on the walls. He was arrested in December 1969, and three years later his death penalty was commuted for technical reasons unrelated to his case to a life sentence.


Manson remained in prison since then (largely in solitary confinement, for his own safety) and died in 2017 at age 83.

Unrelated to Shirley Manson of Garbage fame, but Marilyn Manson's Stage Name is based on him.

Charles Manson and the Manson Family murders in media:

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    Comic Books 
  • In the 2000 AD comic Storming Heaven, Charles Manson, going by the alias Thomas Caliban, is the main villain. He's depicted as a Dark Messiah and Omnicidal Maniac who achieved godlike powers.
  • The Punisher #12-13 by Mike Baron had a Manson analogue by the name of Charles Sampson. Their criminal histories were roughly parallel, with the one major differences being that Sampson apparently wanted to start a class war, as opposed to a race one. Frank stabs Sampson to death after he's crippled during a botched prison break orchestrated by his followers, which included caricatures of Tex Watson and Squeaky Fromme.
  • Night of the Living Dead: Barbara's Zombie Chronicles ends with Barbara discovering that the White House has been taken over by Manson, who has declared himself President Evil.
  • Mentioned in Afterlife with Archie. Josie of the Pussycats thinks he was just an eccentric musician and the murders were actually done by the same person who turned her into a vampire.

  • The Other Side of Madness (1971), also known as The Helter Skelter Murders, mixing documentary and re-enactment scenes, some filmed on the action locations.
  • Manson (1973), documentary by Robert Hendrickson and Laurence Merrick that featured interviews with Charles Manson and other members of the Manson Family.

  • Charles Manson Superstar (1989) by Nikolas Schreck, another documentary about Charles Manson, filmed mostly inside San Quentin Prison.
  • Helter Skelter (2004), remake of the 1976 movie, with a greater focus on Charles Manson's backstory and motives.
  • The US horror movie The Strangers (2008), as stated by its director Bryan Bertino, is partially based on the Manson Family murders.
  • The Canadian film Leslie, My Name Is Evil (2009) revolves around a young juror falling in love with Leslie, a member of the Manson Family, during her trial for the LaBianca murders. note 
  • Patrick, John Hawkes' character in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is clearly based off of Manson, with his followers committing crimes similar to those of the Manson family.
  • He's played by punk rocker Robert Hecker in Raymond Pettibon's irreverent take on the Manson mystique, The Book of Manson (1989).
  • The Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) comes out around the 50th anniversary of the Tate murders, and features every major protagonist of the murders. Damon Herriman reprises the role of Manson after playing him in Mindhunter, and Dakota Fanning plays Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, among others. Although Manson appears in a grand total of one scene.

  • Helter Skelter (1974), a bestselling non-fiction book by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in Charles Manson's trial, and writer Curt Gentry. Up to today the most important publicly accessible source of facts about the Manson Family murders.
  • Tom O'Neill's Chaos (2019) is a refutation of Bugliosi, arguing that the investigation and trial were hopelessly bodged and a degree of cover-up took place to conceal how closely Manson was associated with Hollywood big names and major players in the music industry. O'Neill also explores the lengths taken by the CIA and FBI to monitor the "subversives" in California's alternative circles, speculating Manson may have been, in some respects, working for a CIA handler.
  • Ed Sanders (of The Fugs) wrote the first serious book about Manson, 1971's The Family. He attended the trial and talked to Manson and his followers. Sanders remained fascinated by the case and in 2015 published Sharon Tate: A Life, which still deals quite heavily with Manson. While basically non-fiction, Sanders has an idiosyncratic style influenced by his long career as a poet.
  • The character Alice McMillan in John Kaye's noir crime novel The Dead Circus (2003) is a former member of the Manson Family, which becomes a plot point.
  • Claire Vaye Watkins's short story "Ghosts, Cowboys", from the collection "Battleborn" (2012) is about the weight of history, including her personal history as the daughter of Manson's right-hand man.
  • Manson is a central character in Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon by David McGowan, a chronicle of the hippie music scene that grew out of Laurel Canyon and involved many Manson acquaintances.
  • The Girls is a Roman à Clef novel about a 14-year-old girl who gets drawn into a cult led by a man named Russell. All the names are changed and other details are tweaked (the murders take place in Marin County of Northern California rather than Los Angeles), but the story is clearly a portrait of the Manson Family.
  • Christopher Fowler's short story "The Uninvited" theorizes that the Family were working black magic rituals around the edges of Hollywood. Manson himself doesn't appear, but his right hand man Bobby Beausoleil does.
  • In Kim Newman's Diogenes Club story "Another Fish Story", Manson's attempt to summon the apocalypse is foiled by the Villain Protagonist Derek Leech (who is also planning to bring about an apocalypse and doesn't want anybody else getting in first).
  • In The Art Of Arrow Cutting by Stephen Dedman, one of the supporting characters is the son of a former Family member who claimed that Manson himself was his father.
  • The short story "Amendment" by Stephen Dedman is set in an Alternate History where the cultural conversation surrounding "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" is different, and shows how the difference affects the lives of several historical figures, including Manson.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Helter Skelter (1976), TV adaptation of the Bugliosi-Gentry non-fiction book.
  • Manson was mentioned in the first episode of Gangland, which covered the Aryan Brotherhood. The episode described Manson's brief alliance with the AB.
  • Aquarius is a fictionalized version of the Manson Family's activities and police efforts to stop them.
  • Chanel #3 of Scream Queens (2015) is supposedly Charles Manson's daughter. And there's a serial killer on the loose...
  • In another Ryan Murphy production, American Horror Story: Hotel, Richard Ramirez says he was hoping to see Manson at the Devil's Night dinner party. He's surprised to learn Manson is still alive.
  • In NUMB3RS fifth season finale, the cult leader was partially based on Manson, as he was leading a group of women. He kidnaps Amita for her computer skills to wreck havoc on the economy. It turns out he was planning on spreading his influence, as he was doing it for the fame.
  • In Dark Skies, it's revealed that he was an alien-possessed imposter who casually killed the original Manson and assumed his identity, although the show was cancelled immediately after this is depicted.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • The Monster of the Week from "The Tribe" was clearly based on Manson, though his Helter Skelter plot involved instigating a war between whites and Native Americans, and not whites and blacks.
    • In another episode, Agent Rossi is interviewing someone at a prison and he learns he has a reputation because he once interviewed Manson himself at the same prison. Rossi is asked what he thought of Manson and dismisses him as "small".
  • At the end of the TV movie KnightRider2000 (which was made in 1991 and at the time represented 20 Minutes into the Future), we are shown a cryogenic prison where the bad guys will be enjoying their stay. One of the guards mentions that a cryo-berth is becoming available as they are releasing "this Manson guy". With the passing of the real year 2000 and up till his death in 2017, Manson remained permanently incarcerated and very much in the public consciousness. The passing of "Manson Family" member Susan Atkins in 2009 and her failure to get compassionate release due to her terminal condition also cemented that factnote . So the idea that Manson would be long forgotten by 2000 and released that year seems either Hilarious in Hindsight or a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment, depending on your point of view.

  • The Ozzy Osbourne song "Bloodbath in Paradise" from No Rest for the Wicked is about Charles Manson and his Family.
  • Marilyn Manson takes his stage name from both Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson. The Theme Naming carried through with his original band, all of whose members used stage names with the (female sex symbol) (serial killer) format. He's also taken a chunk of lyrics from Charles Manson's "Mechanical Man" and remade them into "My Monkey" for the band's debut, Portrait of an American Family.
  • "ATWA" from System of a Down's Toxicity album is about Manson.
  • Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" is written from what may be Manson's PoV. Young claimed to have met Manson during his days hanging around the LA hippie scene.
  • Britpop band Mansun were accused of having named themselves after Manson, although they insisted it was after an early track by The Verve called "A Man Called Sun". Their own first single, however, had spelt their name with an "o" on the label and cover.
  • On the other hand, Kasabian did name themselves after one of Manson's "relatives", Linda Kasabian.
  • Deicide wrote a song called "Lunatic of God's Creation" about him (one of the few anti-religious/Satanic songs they've written, incidentally) on their Self-Titled Album.
  • Machine Head's Bloodstone & Diamonds has the song "Night of Long Knives", which is about him and his family.
  • In addition to songs written about Manson, Manson wrote his own music, and even got an album published by producer Phil Kaufman called Lie: The Love and Terror Cult. Before the murders, he was for a time a hanger-on of Dennis Wilson, as a result of which The Beach Boys recorded one of his songs (with slightly altered lyrics) on their 20/20 album as "Never Learn Not To Love" (originally titled "Cease To Exist"). Later on, Guns N' Roses recorded one of his songs, "Look at Your Game, Girl", as a hidden track on their Cover Album "The Spaghetti Incident?", to Troll. Not surprisingly, people were pissed, and Axl removed it from later releases because the public had misunderstood what he was going for and no longer deserved to hear it.
  • He is also mentioned in "Glad To See You Go" by The Ramones from their album Leave Home.
  • Nine Inch Nails' breakthrough album The Downward Spiral was recorded in the house where Manson and his "family" murdered Sharon Tate.
  • Death Grips album Exmilitary opens with a sampled rant from Manson. "I make the money, man. I roll the nickels. The game is mine. I deal the cards."
  • U2 makes a wisecrack at his expense in the Cover Version of "Helter Skelter" on Rattle and Hum:
    "This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We're stealin' it back."
  • "So Far Away From L.A.", a 1975 French song (with Gratuitous English in the chorus) by Nicolas Peyrac, has a final verse that opens with these lines.
    Pauvre Madame Polanski (poor Mrs. Polanski)
    D'un seul coup on t'a pris deux vies (with one blow they took two lives from you)

  • The Manson Family (1990), an opera by American composer John Moran.
  • Charles Manson is an off-stage character in Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins (1990). Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a real-life member of the "Manson Family" who attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975, figures on stage, as does Sara Jane Moore, a woman who was not a member of the Family, but instead an admirer of Manson.

     Video Games 
  • A Mafia III DLC pits Lincoln against the "Ensanglante". Although an original creation, they show clear inspiration from Manson and his family. They're big on hippie style and music, go nuts on psychedelics, think there's an oncoming race war, and commit a lot of murder.

    Web Original 
  • In the New Deal Coalition Retained timeline, Manson never organizes his "family" and sends them on their killing spree. Instead, he tries (and fails) to personally assassinate Martin Luther King Jr., and ends up in prison for it.
  • The Last Podcast on the Left: Episodes 147-149 feature a series on the history of Manson, his early life, how he met his followers, and the Manson Family murders. The hosts' overall impression of Manson is less master manipulator and more idiot criminal who just wanted to move to the desert with his people and saw the situation spiral far out of his control. Henry Zebrowski's impression of Manson is popular enough it was included in their later Detective Popcorn Christmas Special.
  • In For All Time, Manson joins the John Birch Society, becomes a politician, marries Marilyn Monroe and later becomes Governor of California. He runs for president in 1980 with Lyndon LaRouche as his running mate, but loses to Jim Jones. He later tries to break California away from the union, resulting in a brief civil war.
  • Kentucky Fried Politics: Rather than trying to start a race war to bring about the end of the world, Manson tries to assassinate a senator and somehow frame Russia for it to start World War III. When this fails, he instead targets the Beatles, to punish them for "leaking" knowledge of the end times through their music. And when that also fails (only succeeding in killing Brian Epstein), Manson and his followers flee to Jim Jones' compound in Brazil (Manson having met Jones by chance and befriended him years earlier). Then when MI6 and Interpol track them down and raid the compound, Manson and Jones get into an argument over which of them is the real messiah, providing an opening for the authorities to storm inside; Manson is then gunned down while trying to fight back.

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Manson Family


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