The Celebrities Who Crossed Paths with Charles Manson and His Deadly Cult
Charles Manson and his murderous "family" didn't just target celebrities — they also befriended and lived with them, including Dennis Wilson and Neil Young
Before Charles Manson — who died on Sunday at age 83 — and his murderous “family” of followers embarked on a plan to kill famous people in the ’60s, the group sought out celebrities as friends, roommates and professional connections.
Manson was drawn to the famous and glamorous, biographer Jeff Guinn explains to PEOPLE: “Manson fully intended to become the most famous rock ’n’ roll star in history” — and he worked to connect with those who he believed could aid his career.
The time period is also important, Guinn says: From the mid- to late-‘60s, many celebrities embraced an egalitarian idea that they were no different from the people around them.
“In that era, in that time, it was inevitable they [the Manson ‘family’] would encounter some famous people,” Guinn tells PEOPLE. “But it was not anything that happened by chance. It was their design.”
Manson ultimately failed as a musician, which put distance between him and his celebrity friends, fanning the flames of his anger at the world.
Among the “family”’s victims was Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski. Guinn says the group targeted Tate’s home not because of Tate or Polanski, particularly, “but because that was the fanciest house they knew how to get to in the middle of the night,” and Manson just assumed that some famous people must live there.
Manson’s ultimate plan, according to Guinn, was to trigger a race war by pinning the deaths of celebrities on the Black Panthers.
Tate is one of several people in the entertainment world who crossed paths with Manson, tragically and otherwise. Others include:
The Beach Boys
Perhaps the most famous celebrities with connections to Manson, the enormously popular band came into his orbit through co-founder Dennis Wilson, who met Manson after picking up some of his “girls” as they hitchhiked. Wilson was likely unaware that, according to Guinn, the girls had been sent out in pairs by Manson specifically to meet up with musicians.
Manson and his group later moved in to Wilson’s home, plying him and his bandmates with women and drugs. Manson himself was “giddy” about connecting with the Beach Boy, according to Guinn. He tried to get signed with the band’s record label and to push Wilson to introduce him to other musicians.
But their relationship broke apart after Wilson claimed to have seen Manson kill a black man and stuff him in a well. (Prosecutors dispute this possibility.)
Still, Wilson never stopped carrying guilt for the Manson murders, having let Manson into his life and home and having introduced him to Melcher.
As co-founder Mike Love wrote in his new memoir, “The guilt was devastating … Dennis [was] shaken to the core.”
According to Love, bandmate Wilson’s “inexplicable” friendship with Manson introduced the latter to many of the Beach Boys’ comrades — including Melcher, a record producer and the only child of screen legend Day.
Soon, Manson began to accompany Melcher and Wilson on many of their club outings.
“Manson was also in the car one day when Dennis dropped Terry off at his rented home at 10050 Cielo Drive, at the top of a steep hill in the Benedict Canyon area,” Love wrote in his memoir, noting that Melcher was living in the property with his then-girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen.
In 1969, Melcher began visiting wannabe rock star Manson at his ramshackle dwelling, the Spahn Ranch — likely, Love wrote, as a favor to Wilson.
But where Melcher was different from other celebrities is that he was raised in the limelight, as Day’s only child, Guinn says. He never let Manson get close to him or his home, even as Manson craved access to exactly the kind of circles Melcher and Bergen moved within.
Unimpressed by Manson’s singing abilities after his second trip, Melcher eventually made it clear he wouldn’t aid in Manson’s quest for stardom. Guinn says Melcher broke the news in the same way he did other wannabe stars: Over the phone, telling him some version of, “I’m sure you’re talented, but I just wouldn’t know what to do with you.”
Melcher later vacated his rental home in Benedict Canyon, California, at Day’s urging, not long before Manson’s “family” committed the Tate murders there in 1969.
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To Angela Lansbury’s dismay, daughter Deidre Shaw, fell in with Manson’s group in California.
“It pains me to say it but, at one stage, Deidre was in with a crowd led by Charles Manson,” the Murder, She Wrote star has said. “She was one of many youngsters who knew him — and they were fascinated. He was an extraordinary character, charismatic in many ways, no question about it.”
Guinn tells PEOPLE that Shaw “never formally joined” Manson’s group.
Echoing her mother, Guinn says Shaw, who went by DiDi, “was one of a number of impressionable young people who had her parents’ credit cards, and what they would do is they would pick up these kids after school and then they would head off [to shop].”
Guinn says Shaw’s Manson connection ended when her credit cards were cut off. “To Manson, this meant that, ‘Hey, we need more of those [kinds of kids], and he soon moved on, as we will see, to another one. But [Shaw] was the first one.”
One of the few celebrities to really get behind Manson’s music dreams was Neil Young, Guinn says: Impressed by Manson’s improvised lyrics, Young suggested his work to record executive Mo Ostin, who was unimpressed. (Manson connected with Mama Cass and John Phillips separately, to similar results.)
Still, Manson retained a soft spot for Young, according to Guinn: After the 1969 murders, Manson said Young was the only celebrity that was also a good person … because he’d given Manson a motorcycle.
Guinn, however, said it was an open question whether Young had actually given Manson this gift.
Manson’s Alleged ‘Death List’: Steve McQueen, Elizabeth Taylor — and Others
In the wake of the Tate murders, which sent shock waves through Hollywood, one of Manson’s “girls” reportedly revealed the existence of a “death list” targeting more A-listers, including Steve McQueen and Elizabeth Taylor.
Guinn tells PEOPLE there was never any such list. But McQueen himself apparently seemed to believe the rumors, according to a purported letter he sent to his lawyer in October 1970.
“As you know, I have been selected by the Manson Group to be marked for death, along with Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones,” McQueen wrote, according to a copy of the letter. “In some ways I find it humorous, and in other ways frighteningly tragic.
“It may be nothing, but I must consider it may be true both for the protection of myself and my family.”
In his letter, McQueen goes on to request a renewal for his gun permit, “as it is the only sense of self-protection for my family and myself, and I certainly think I have good reason.”
• With LINDSAY KIMBLE and JEFF TRUESDELL