Charles Manson dead: Represented the dark side of the '60s cultural revolution
Infamous serial killer and cult leader Charles Manson died yesterday at age 83. He died, peacefully, in a hospital bed, unlike his victims, who were murdered in the most unimaginably vicious manner.
A petty criminal who had been in and out of jail since childhood, the charismatic, guru-like Manson surrounded himself in the 1960s with runaways and other lost souls and then sent his disciples to butcher some of L.A.'s rich and famous in what prosecutors said was a bid to trigger a race war — an idea he got from a twisted reading of the Beatles song "Helter Skelter."
The slayings horrified the world and, together with the deadly violence that erupted later in 1969 during a Rolling Stones concert at California's Altamont Speedway, exposed the dangerous, drugged-out underside of the counterculture movement and seemed to mark the death of the era of peace and love.
Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, Manson maintained during his tumultuous trial in 1970 that he was innocent and that society itself was guilty.
"These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them; I didn't teach them. I just tried to help them stand up," he said in a courtroom soliloquy.
Linda Deutsch, the longtime courts reporter for The Associated Press who covered the Manson case, said he "left a legacy of evil and hate and murder."
"He was able to take young people who were impressionable and convince them he had the answer to everything and he turned them into killers," she said. "It was beyond anything we had ever seen before in this country."
Manson murdered actress Sharon Tate and five of her friends at Tate's home on August 9, 1969. Less than a week later, the rock festival at Woodstock, N.Y. began. Those two events represented opposite sides of the same coin; a cultural revolution that changed America forever and brought with it far more pain and sorrow than liberating happiness.
If the myth of Woodstock involved a half a million people celebrating life in peace and love (That's the myth, anyway. The reality was far darker.), the truth of Manson's horrific deeds was that the killer celebrated pretty much the same philosophy as the hippies, except he used it to trap and malignantly influence his followers.
Drugs and sex – "if it feels good, do it" – were how Manson attracted his devotees. The same could be said about the murders his followers committed, who were high on LSD when they entered Tate's house and proceeded to massacre everyone. One of his female followers recalled how good it felt to stab her victims – almost a sexual experience.
You cannot look at the counterculture revolution without seeing both sides of it. The fallout from consequence-free sex, putting anything in your body that makes you feel good – the AIDS epidemic; the explosion of other STDs; addiction; overdoses; broken, shattered lives – this is the flip-side of the Woodstock generation's quest to find "peace and love." And Manson represented it perfectly.
Manson's delusions about starting a race war (afterward, he would rule the world) by "showing the black man" how to do it cost the lives of eight innocent human beings. He lucked out. California's death penalty statute was declared unconstitutional, saving him from the gas chamber.
That he died peacefully in his sleep is one of the great injustices of the 20th century.