Charles Manson dead: How the cult leader was referenced in popular culture

Notorious figure was referenced dozens of times by musicians, actors and writers

Roisin O'Connor@Roisin_OConnor
Monday 20 November 2017 11:02
A scene from Family Guy referencing Charles Manson
A scene from Family Guy referencing Charles Manson

Charles Manson, the man who orchestrated the horrific murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others in Los Angeles, 1969, has died.

The 83-year-old spent nearly half a century in prison, and died of natural causes at Kern County hospital, according to a California Department of Corrections statement.

He had serious musical ambitions and befriended several prominent rock stars of the time, including Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, and Neil Young. He also met Terry Melcher, a music producer who had lived in the same house that Polanski and Tate later rented.

By the summer 1969, Manson had failed to sell his songs, and the rejection, particularly a snub by Melcher, was later seen as a trigger for the violence. Manson complained that Wilson took his song “Cease to Exist,” revised it into “Never Learn Not to Love”, recording it with the Beach Boys without giving Manson credit.

Manson was obsessed with the Beatles, particularly their songs “Piggies” and “Helter Skelter", the latter of which he believed was a forecast for the end of the world. He told his followers that “Helter Skelter is coming down” and predicted a race war would destroy the planet. George Harrison, who wrote "Piggies", would later say how upsetting it was to be associated with "something so sleazy as Charles Manson".

Manson's name is still a source of horror and fascination. He, the Manson family and their crimes have been referenced in popular culture over the decades in music, film and television.

Here are some of the most memorable:

Sonic Youth - "Death Valley '69"

The no-wave band were inspired by the hiding place Manson told his followers would be used when the race war he predicted broke out.

Nine Inch Nails - "Gave Up"

The rock band's music video for this track was filmed entirely at 10050 Cielo Drive, where the Tate murders took place, with special guest Marilyn Manson. Much of the band's breakthrough record The Downward Spiral was recorded there too.

Family Guy

In an episode of Family Guy, Peter remembers that he hasn't been to California "since I lived with my other family". In a flashback, he runs into a shack where Manson is sitting and exclaims: "Guys, I've just been invited to a party at Sharon Tate's house! You guys can come, but you gotta promise not to embarrass me."

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Helter Skelter

Most film and TV interpretations of Charles Manson are based on the acclaimed non-fiction book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. It provides a detailed look at the cult leader, thanks in large part to the writer's involvement with his prosecution.

The film Helter Skelter debuted on CBS seven years after the Manson family carried out a series of murders which claimed the lives of several people, with cult actor Steve Railsback as the notorious ringleader. It was adapted again in 2009.

Neil Young - "Revolution Blues"

Young is one of the view artists willing to speak openly about his admiration for Manson before the murders took place. Before those events, Manson frequented the California music scene and Young remembered telling a record executive that he was "good... just a little out of control".

After the Manson murders took place he wrote "Revolution Blues", which includes the line "10 million dune buggies" - a reference to Manson's plan to assemble forces in the Mojave desert for his race war.

South Park

There were numerous references to Manson in the animated series, but one of the most memorable saw him depicted as an escaped convict in need of some Christmas spirit. He encounters the foul-mouthed quartet and is taught the meaning of Christmas.

Alkaline Trio - "Sadie"


The goth-punks refer to Sadie G, Ms Susan A. and "Charlie's broken .22" - two Manson cult members and the gun that Tex Watson used to beat Polish actor Wojciech Frykowski to death - on the song from their 2007 record Remains.

Aquarius (2015)


This NBC drama saw David Duchovny as LAPD investigator Sam Hodiak, whose latest case draws him into the twisted world of Manson and his followers. He is forced to go undercover with a young police officer to infiltrate the family, and soon begins to see the world very differently. Manson is portrayed by Gethin Anthony, who fans may have recognised as Renley Baratheon in Game of Thrones.

American Horror Story: Cult

"Charles Manson In Charge", the 10th episode of Cult, premiered on 7 November 2017. The synopsis explains: "Kai's political movement is challenged. The cult learns from the master. Ally uncovers a secret operative in the group."

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