Charles Milles Manson (né Maddox, November 12, 1934 – November 19, 2017) was an American criminal and cult leader. In the late 1960s, he formed what became known as the Manson Family, a quasi-commune in California. Manson’s followers committed a series of nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969. In 1971, he was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of seven people, all of which members of the group carried out at his instruction. Manson was also convicted of first-degree murder for two other deaths.
At the time the Manson Family began to form, Manson was an unemployed ex-convict who had spent half of his life in correctional institutions for a variety of offenses. Before the murders, he was a singer-songwriter on the fringe of the Los Angeles music industry, chiefly through a chance association with Dennis Wilson, drummer and founding member of the Beach Boys. Manson believed in what he called “Helter Skelter”, a term he took from the Beatles’ song of the same name to describe an impending apocalyptic race war. He believed the murders would help precipitate that war. The Beach Boys recorded one of his songs, “Cease to Exist”, under the title “Never Learn Not to Love”. It was released as a B-sided single in 1968 without crediting Manson.
From the beginning of Manson’s notoriety, a pop culture arose around him in which he ultimately became an emblem of insanity, violence, and the macabre. After he was charged with the crimes of which he was later convicted, recordings of songs written and performed by Manson were released commercially, starting with Lie: The Love and Terror Cult (1970). Various musicians have covered some of his songs. Manson was originally sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life with the possibility of parole after California invalidated the state’s death penalty statute in 1972. He served out his life sentence at California State Prison in Corcoran and died at age 83 in 2017.