There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Charles Manson was a charismatic figure. The man had a presence, a commanding voice, and an almost messianic air to all his actions. Throughout the late 60s, he surrounded himself with young men and women, using the popular hippie culture of free love to gather a group of loyal followers. In time, they became so devoted to Manson and his teachings they were like religious zealots, willing to do anything that Manson asked of them. Including kill.
On the night of August 8, 1969, Manson tasked his family with going to the former home of Terry Melcher and killing everyone living there. Melcher was a record producer who had snubbed Manson’s requests for a record deal, and the disgruntled Manson planned to exact his revenge through murder.
Only Melcher wasn’t living there any longer. Instead, Manson’s followers found Sharon Tate and five others and killed all of them.
The murders became a national sensation. Later, 24 of the Manson Family, including Manson himself, were arrested on charges of grand theft auto and arson. One Manson follower, named Susan Atkins, told other prisoners in jail about the Tate murder and that the Family had a list of celebrities they planned to murder to bring about Manson’s vision.
Here are five of the most famous celebrities on Manson’s hit list.
There are two things to understand in the Manson murders. First, most of the celebrities Manson planned to kill had at one point snubbed the cult leader while he was trying to make a name for himself in California. The other is “Helter Skelter”, the name Manson gave for the impending apocalypse as racial tensions in America finally boiled over and overthrew the social order.
Those racial tensions are still around today, so he was wrong about one thing. As for murdering celebrities, it was hoped that the high-profile murders would result in riots. Elizabeth Taylor was Susan Atkins personal request for a target. One of the most famous actresses ever to grace the silver screen, Atkins planned to gouge out her eyes and brand her face with a hot knife.
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Richard Burton was another big name in Hollywood at the time. He had never had any personal dealings with Manson, but his celebrity was large enough that it made him a target for Manson’s vision of global upheaval. While Atkins was blabbing her mouth off in jail awaiting trial, inmates overheard how she’d like to castrate the actor.
It’s not unusual for Manson to have targeted Tom Jones, given how big the singer was in the late 60s. Already famous for his Las Vegas performances, Jones then got a television variety show called This Is Tom Jones which launched him to national stardom.
Atkins personally seemed infatuated with the “What’s New Pussycat” crooner, saying that she’d like to have congress with Jones at knifepoint before she slit his throat. Not exactly our idea of a good night in, but to each their own.
Even bigger than Jones was Sinatra, a name that would become legendary in the music biz. Manson put Sinatra on the death list simply because it would rock America to its very core, and he believed the public outcry would surely lead to panic in the streets. For her part, Atkins had big plans for the singer, saying she’d like to skin him alive and then tan the lather to use for making purses. She’d then go out and sell those handbags to hippies. How entrepreneurial.
Not quite at the top of the list but pretty high up was Steve McQueen. A wildly successful actor in his own right, McQueen was targeted not just for his fame but because he’d rejected a screenplay Manson sent him nearly a year before. As is normal for Manson, the perceived rebuff meant McQueen had to die.
He almost got McQueen too. On the night of the murders, McQueen had been invited to Tate’s house for dinner by their mutual friend Jay Sebring. McQueen demurred, which likely saved his life.