When Charles Manson died on Nov. 19, 2017, he left behind an unprecedented legacy. As a former cult leader, he was the mastermind of multiple high-profile murders in 1969. During his trial and his subsequent imprisonment, he became a disquieting figure in American pop culture.
Manson is most famous for orchestrating the murder of actress Sharon Tate and her friends. But his ties to Hollywood were more far-reaching than this single act of violence. During his time in Southern California, he crossed paths with many famous figures. Here are just a few.
1. Bryan Cranston
In the late 1960s, the Manson Family transformed the mostly deserted Spahn Ranch into their own personal commune. During their time there, an untold number of people witnessed their hippie lifestyle — and more than a few chose to join them.
One person that didn’t like what he saw went on to become very famous. And when Manson died, he reflected on his all-too-brief encounter with the cult leader.
Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston shared this memory on Twitter:
“Hearing Charles Manson is dead, I shuddered. I was within his grasp just one year before he committed brutal murder in 1969. Luck was with me when a cousin and I went horseback riding at the Span Ranch, and saw the little man with crazy eyes whom the other hippies called Charlie.”
Cranston is clearly grateful he didn’t get sucked into the Manson Family drama. But it’s clear that even this quick glimpse at the man who would become notorious was too close for comfort.
2. Angela Lansbury
For most of us, Angela Lansbury is the sweet-as-she-is-smart maternal figure from such classics as Beauty and the Beast and Murder, She Wrote. But off screen, the actress faced some dark days.
In the late 1960s, Lansbury and her husband, Peter Shaw, lived in Southern California. When their daughter, Deirdre Shaw, began to experiment with drugs, they were concerned. Then, she joined the Manson Family.
According to Lansbury, Shaw was “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.” But Lansbury knew her daughter was on a path toward destruction. So she and her husband decided to move their children away from the temptations of drugs and cult leaders.
3. Neil Young
More than anything, Charles Manson wanted to be famous. And he wanted to be known for his music, specifically. So he sought out multiple people in the recording industry over the years. Many people were drawn to Manson’s eccentric personality and music — at least, at first. And Neil Young was one of them.
He met Manson at a party in the late 1960s, where the cult leader played the musician some of his songs. Young was intrigued by Manson’s sound. In his autobiography, he says, “His songs were off-the-cuff things he made up as he went along, and they were never the same twice in a row… the songs were fascinating. He was quite good.”
For a brief time, Young says he tried to connect Manson with someone who would give him a recording contract. But before Manson could follow through on the connection, he became famous for an entirely different — and much more macabre — reason than his music.
4. The Mamas and the Papas
Like Neil Young, The Mamas and the Papas were some of the most famous musicians to come out of the 1960s. And like Young, multiple members of the group found Manson fascinating.
He first met Mama Cass Elliot at a party in her home. And he became friendly enough with John and Michelle Phillips that he and some of the other Manson Family members stopped by their home on several occasions. According to John, Manson was keen to hit the recording studio with him, but that he turned him down.
It’s unclear exactly how close the Mamas and the Papas members were to Manson. But John and Elliot were both offered up as potential witnesses for the defense when Manson went to trial for murder in 1971.
5. Michael Caine
Manson met many of his most famous acquaintances at Hollywood parties, like the ones he attended at Elliot’s home.One Oscar-winning actor has a clear memory of meeting Manson at one such event.
In his autobiography, Michael Caine recalls being introduced to the cult leader — a “scruffy little man” by his account — by Elliot. Their relationship didn’t extend much past that brief meeting. But, in an eerie coincidence, Caine recalls that he attended that party with two of Manson’s future victims: Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate.
6. The Beach Boys
Most people who met Manson before the murders would not claim a deep or meaningful relationship with him. But one famous musician took the cult leader under his wing — and spent the rest of his life regretting their bond.
Dennis Wilson didn’t just become friendly with Manson after they met in 1968. For a brief time, they were roommates. Even when they weren’t living together, Wilson and Manson’s relationship remained pretty strong — and he introduced him to the rest of his Beach Boy band mates.
Wilson eventually severed ties with Manson, allegedly after he witnessed the cult leader kill someone at Spahn Ranch. He didn’t turn Manson in, and after he was arrested in 1969, the musician was wracked with guilt that he didn’t do anything to prevent the subsequent murders.
7. Marilyn Manson
Rock star Marilyn Manson took his surname from the cult leader, one of the most notorious figures of the 20th century. And apparently Manson was so flattered that he became a fan.
In 2012, he penned an incoherent postcard to the rock star, which was later circulated online. It’s hard to make sense of Manson’s letter to Marilyn Manson. It contains phrases like, “What you don’t do is what I will do – what you did a sing-along, and let it roll and said how you saved me a lot of steps,” and “Ghost dancers slay together and you’re just in my grave Sunstroker Corona-coronas-coronae.”
But what is clear is that Marilyn Manson made a big enough impression on his namesake to warrant a response — even from behind bars.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox.
Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!