Charles Milles Manson (né Maddox, November 12, 1934 - November 19, 2017) was an American criminal and cult leader.
Manson was troubled from a young age — he set his school on fire at age 9 — and spent most of his adolescence and adult life in prison for various petty crimes. During an evaluation case with a case worker, Manson's IQ was determined to be around 109, but his aggressive nature and lack of remorse over his actions were also stated as being anti-social. After leaving prison in 1967, he managed to attract the attention of a group of nearly 20 young women in the Bay Area; with them, he developed a hippie commune: the Manson Family.
The commune turned into a doomsday cult as Manson developed his theory of an imminent race war, in which Black people would annihilate all White people except for the Manson Family, who would rule over them. Manson, a white supremacist, believed that Black people were too stupid to govern themselves and was confident that he and the Family would easily become their masters. He started calling this "Helter Skelter" after listening to The Beatles' The White Album — he was convinced that the album had apocalyptic hidden messages about the war hidden in its tracks, especially "Helter Skelter."
He soon decided that it was the Manson Family's mission to provoke the coming race war. First, they would create an album that would herald the coming war; this they attempted by co-opting Dennis Wilson's resources for six months while he introduced them to some colleagues in the music industry. The next phase, unfortunately, was deadlier: the Family believed that terrible murders of White people by Black people would be the spark to start the race war; they decided that they should murder people that they themselves considered pigs, believing that it would inspire Black people to do the same.
The Manson Family committed several brutal murders, including that of Roman Polański's pregnant wife, Sharon Tate — the one that catapulted them into national attention. At each, they left message "Helter Skelter" written in blood on the walls. Manson himself never participated in any of the known murders, but he was arrested for orchestrating them in December 1969, convicted, and sentenced to death. Three years later, after California ruled the death penalty unconstitutional, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. In September of 1975, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a follower of Manson's who had been spared prison, became the first of two attempted assassins of then-President Gerald Ford that month, apparently attempting to get a new trial for Manson.
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:
- 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 difference 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), a documentary by Robert Hendrickson and Laurence Merrick that featured interviews with Manson and other members of the Manson Family.
- Charles Manson Superstar (1989) by Nikolas Schreck, another documentary about Manson, filmed mostly inside San Quentin Prison.
- Helter Skelter (2004), remake of the 1976 movie, with a greater focus on 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.
- The Manson Family depicts the Manson Family's rise and fall through their own eyes.
- Stay Tuned (1992), features a 50's style sitcom called Meet the Mansons, starting a child version of him named Chuck.
- Charlie Says: 2018 film telling the story of the Tate-LaBianca murders from the perspective of the three women convicted of those murders, with Leslie Van Houten as the POV character. Matt Smith plays Manson.
- 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, it's 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 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). As a concession, Leech promises Manson that he will be famous.
- 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.
- American Horror Story:
- 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.
- Manson also appears in the final two episodes of American Horror Story: Cult as a hallucination of the season's Big Bad Kai Anderson (who is a cult leader himself). He explicitly denies being a Spirit Advisor because he's still alive in the California State Prison. The real-world Manson died five days after the finale aired.
- Aquarius is a fictionalized version of the Manson Family's activities and police efforts to stop them.
- 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".
- 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.
- Manson was mentioned in the first episode of Gangland, which covered the Aryan Brotherhood. The episode described Manson's brief alliance with the AB.
- Helter Skelter (1976), a TV adaptation of the Bugliosi-Gentry non-fiction book, starring Steve Railsback as Manson.
- Interview with the Vampire (2022): Daniel Molloy doesn't have much sympathy for Claudia because she's a murderer: "Look, Charles Manson wrote a couple of beautiful songs. Still, he was Charlie Manson." Manson's song "Home Is Where You're Happy" plays over the fifth episode's end credits.
- At the end of the TV movie Knight Rider 2000 (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 Harsher in Hindsight, depending on your point of view.
- 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.
- Chanel #3 of Scream Queens (2015) is supposedly Charles Manson's daughter. And there's a serial killer on the loose...
- 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 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 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' song "Beware", from their album Exmilitary, opens with a long sampled rant from an interview with Manson, concluding with "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)
- David Bowie's "Candidate" namedrops Manson as one of the "bulletproof faces" that a papier-mâché shop sells in Hunger City.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 corrupter of souls' and more 'idiot criminal with a gift of gab who just wanted to move to the desert with his people and have sex with as many girls as possible as much as he could' and saw the situation spiral far out of his control when he needed to keep giving reasons for why they needed to stay in the desert, combined with 'The group is doing so many mind-altering drugs that their sense of reality has been permanently and dangerously altered'. 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.
- In the South Park episode "Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson!", Cartman's uncle Howard breaks from prison to celebrate Christmas with the rest of the family. He is accompanied by his prison pal, a certain "Charlie" Manson, who (after a shootout with the police) ends up learning about the True Meaning of Christmas.
- Charles Manson has been seen in various cutaway gags on Family Guy.
- In a five-minute Claymation segment on MTV's 1997 Cartoon Shushi which would eventually become the pilot for Celebrity Deathmatch, he fought Marilyn Manson, ultimately losing when the musician ripped his skeleton out through his mouth.