What to Know About Sharon Tate, Pregnant Actress Killed by Charles Manson's Followers 50 Years Ago

Sharon Tate was killed by Charles Manson's followers in a horrific stabbing at her home in Benedict Canyon, California

Sharon Tate was 26 in 1969 and about to begin a new chapter of her life: The successful actress was married to director Roman Polanski and was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with their first child.

But that was all cut short when Tate was killed — along with Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski and Steven Parent — in a horrific stabbing at her Los Angeles-area home by followers of cult leader Charles Manson.

The murders occurred on August 9, 1969 — 50 years ago today.

Manson, whose name became synonymous with evil after his arrest in connection with the 1969 murders of Tate and the others, died in 2017. He was 83 and serving a life sentence in California’s Corcoran State Prison at the time of his death.

Tate is played by Margot Robbie in the new Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Tate’s sister, Debra Tate said she approves of the portrayal of her sister by Robbie and Tarantino, but wishes he would have dedicated more attention to Tate.

“I mean, I really wish that Quentin Tarantino would do the Sharon Tate story, and I would love to see Margot play [that]… But that was not the movie that Quentin had written, and I knew it and I understood it,” she said. “And it was his vision. I’m not going to tell anybody that has done such a wonderful job, and a respectful job at honoring a particular situation, that they have to do my version of a story. Although I really wish he would’ve.”

In the interview, Debra Tate also recalled being greatly affected by seeing, and in particular hearing, Robbie play her sister when she visited the set of the film.

“She made me cry because she sounded just like Sharon,” she said. “The tone in her voice was completely Sharon, and it just touched me so much that big tears [started falling]. The front of my shirt was wet. I actually got to see my sister again… nearly 50 years later.”

Tate was born in Dallas on Jan. 24, 1943, to Army officer Paul James Tate and wife Doris in Dallas. She and her two younger sisters, Debra and Patti, frequently moved around due to their father’s job, even relocating to Italy when Tate was in high school.

The teen’s beauty earned her notice and she began entering pageants, winning the 1959 title of “Miss Richland” in Washington. She was also recognized due to a photograph of her on the cover of the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

Sharon Tate - 1967
MGM/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Tate started her career as an actress in Italy, appearing in films as an extra. When her family returned to the United States in 1962, she moved to L.A. and signed a seven-year contract with Martin Ransohoff, director of Filmways, Inc.

She started in small roles, in the TV series Mister Ed and The Beverly Hillbillies, but lost out to other actresses for larger parts such as Liesl in the film version of The Sound of Music.

In late 1965, Ransohoff gave Tate her first major role, in the film Eye of the Devil.

Not long after, she met Polanski, who cast her to star in his film The Fearless Vampire Killers. Their relationship developed throughout production, and Tate moved into Polanski’s London apartment after the movie wrapped.

The couple was married in London on Jan. 20, 1968, and soon returned to L.A., where they ran in a circle of Hollywood stars as Tate continued her acting career.

Many critics praised her comedic performance in The Wrecking Crew, and she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as “New Star of the Year – Actress” for her Valley of the Dolls performance.

Sharon Tate On The Shooting Of 'L'Oeil Du Malin' By Jack Lee Thompson
Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty

Tate became pregnant near the end of 1968, and in February 1969 the couple moved to 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills’ Benedict Canyon, a home that previously belonged to their friends Terry Melcher and Candice Bergen.

While Polanski was in London to work on The Day of the Dolphin, he asked Frykowski and Folger to stay in their home with his expecting wife.

The last time Tate’s family saw her, Debra later recalled to PEOPLE, their mother asked if she needed anything. Tate looked at her round belly and smiled before replying, “I have everything I need.”

On the evening of Aug. 8, 1969, Tate dined at her favorite restaurant, El Coyote, with Sebring, Frykowski and Folger. They returned to the house around 10:30 p.m. and were attacked by Manson’s followers shortly after midnight.

The bodies were discovered the next morning. Tate had been stabbed 16 times and had an “X” carved into her stomach.

“My boyfriend at the time called to say he had heard on the radio that there was a fire at a house in Benedict Canyon and that one of the victims was Sharon Tate,” Debra said of the following day in a 2014 PEOPLE cover story. “My mom flung open the shower door and said, ‘Sharon’s dead.’ She was crying and wailing and shaking and her knees buckled and I remember the horror that comes with watching my little sister’s world crumble. It’s very horrifying when your parents fall out from beneath you.”

The Tates soon learned that there was no fire and that the murders were part of Manson’s unhinged plan to start a race war he called “Helter Skelter.”

Mourners at Sharon Tate's Funeral
Bettmann/Getty

Even decades later, the hours after that fateful phone call remain seared in Debra’s brain.

“I got out of the shower without even rinsing the soap out of my hair and got on the phone,” she said. “I felt like there must have been some sort of mistake.” She called her father, Col. Paul Tate, who was wrapping up his 23-year Army career in San Francisco, to deliver the news. “He came down and went straight to the house,” she said. “He wandered in on the scene when they were still doing their detective work.”

Doris Tate, Sharon’s mother, spent her life championing for victims’ rights: She helped get the Victims’ Bill of Rights, which allowed for victim impact statements, passed in California in 1982 and founded the Coalition on Victims’ Equal Rights before her death in 1992.

Debra said her sister’s murder was her life’s defining moment: “It made me what I am.” And as long as she lives, she said she will battle to prevent parole for Tate’s murderers.

“They’re not supernatural, they’re not the devil, they’re nothing special,” she said. “They’re just little creeps.”

• With ELAINE ARADILLAS

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