Even if you never saw or heard the man himself, the life and crimes of Charles Manson and his homicidal hippie cult the Manson Family are the stuff of mind-melting nightmares.
Under Charlie’s orders, the Family executed the “Tate-LaBianca” murders, in which they slaughtered suburban Los Angeles residents, including Hollywood star Sharon Tate, over two nights of horrific bloodletting intended to set off Manson’s theoretical “Helter Skelter” race war.
Still, that was in 1969. Nonetheless, nearly 50 years later, Charles Manson continues to rule as America’s preeminent ranting, raving, bug-eyed boogeyman.
The reason for that is two-fold. Indeed, Manson is toxically charismatic (after all, he did convince a small army of previously uncorrupted hippie kids to kill and die for him). Then, because Charlie is so simultaneously hypnotizing and hair-raising, he has always provided journalists with absolutely killer interviews. As a result, he’s gotten to spray his madness all over the media fairly regularly for close to a half-century now.
What follows are five of Charles Manson’s most insanely incendiary and uncomfortably captivating high-profile Q&A sessions. Just try looking away once Charlie gets going.
1. TOMORROW WITH TOM SNYDER (1981)
Tom Snyder’s late-night NBC Tomorrow show aired after Johnny Carson and typically sent wee-hours viewers to sleep with toned-down, intelligent conversation. Such was not the case, however, on June 12, 1981.
Snyder scored network TV’s first up-close, in-depth sit-down with Manson and, after taking some heat from various moral guardians, he opted to go through with the interview at the California State Prison Medical Facility.
Surprisingly, Snyder’s eccentric, unbuttoned style seems to mellow Manson down quite a bit. Charlie talks for long stretches between the inevitable flip-outs. And even knowing that nothing untoward happened during the conversation, it’s terrifying to watch the newsman in such close proximity to the madman.
2. GERALDO WITH GERALDO RIVERA (1988)
As cool-headed as Tom Snyder was in his approach to Manson, Geraldo Rivera, at the height of his tawdry afternoon talk show, confronted Charlie with alpha machismo and, as expected, he got the scary guy to howl … literally.
In the course of their talk at San Quentin, Geraldo tells Manson he’s a “murdering dog.” Charlie responds that he raised himself as a “wolf boy,” as well as that he’s God and the devil. He also (sort of) threatens to chop off Geraldo’s head.
During the same year in which racist skinheads broke his nose during an on-air riot and he hosted the live NBC prime-time Halloween special, Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground, Rivera aired this interview under the title “Manson: Psycho.”
Manson spouts his usual gibberish but, also as usual, he works in some disturbingly insightful nuggets, such as when he tells Rivera, “The guy you’re trying to make me into is impossible. What you’re doing is you’re creating a legend, you’re creating a beast, you’re creating whatever you are judging yourselves with — into the word ‘Manson.’”
3. TODAY WITH HEIDI SCHULMAN (1987)
The prospect of NBC’s Today show blasting Charles Manson across America’s breakfast tables certainly seemed, to put it mildly, out of character.
Nonetheless the morning program that typically traffics in celebrities promoting their latest projects and charmingly goofy weather forecasts dispatched correspondent Heidi Schulman to talk with Manson. She, and everyone else, got an earful.
Among Charlie’s most volcanic declarations were these doozies:
“I’ve never killed anyone. Maybe I should have killed 400 or 500 people. Then I would have felt better. Then I should have felt like I really offered society something.”
“You know, if I wanted to kill somebody I’d take this book and beat you to death with it and wouldn’t feel a thing. It’d be just like walking to the drug store.”
“Believe me, if I started murdering people there’d be none of you left.”
Finally, upon parting, Manson turned to Schulman and said, “You know you’re about 10 pounds overweight, don’t you? I’m just telling you. That’s all. I’m just sayin’.”
4. TURNING POINT WITH DIANE SAWYER (1993)
Acclaimed ABC news journalist Diane Sawyer devoted an entire episode of the network’s Turning Point series to examining the Manson phenomenon, anchored by an expectedly tumultuous talk with Charlie himself.
Manson looks arguably more frightening than ever with long, greasy hair, a prison-issue sweatshirt, and that signature swastika tattooed between his eyes.
Manson speaks from the point of view of his prostitute mother and reiterates that he never sought out followers and that the Family members came to him. He also remarks of the Tate-LaBianca murder sites: “If you’re gonna do something, leave something witchy. Just like I would tell you — if you’re gonna do something, do it well.”
The high point, so to speak, occurs when Charlie points his magnetic eyes straight into the camera and asks of the viewers at home: “Every one of you tried to kill me for the last 25 years, and I’m still here. Ha-ha-ha. Now what?”
5. NIGHTWATCH WITH CHARLIE ROSE (1987)
Smooth PBS talker Charlie Rose actually gets atypically worked up in the course of his powwow with Manson. After Manson repeatedly denies any responsibility, let alone remorse, regarding the Tate-LaBianca massacres, Rose asks if he cares about the brutality.
Manson explodes in response: “Care? What does that mean — care? Put me in solitary and fine me, break my teeth out, break my ribs, brush me up, take me down the hole, and then come back and tell me about ‘care!’ I don’t know what care is, man!”
One musical highlight occurs when Manson suddenly bursts out singing the Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”
Main photo: Charles Manson/Turning Point, ABC [screenshot]