It will probably be a couple of days before Charles Manson is laid to rest, assuming they can find someplace willing to allow his cursed body to be lowered into their ground. But he died much as he had lived for most of the last half century… imprisoned, but still the focus of an endless media circus which seemed to feed him in some twisted way. It feels vulgar to talk about a monster like Manson in terms of a “legacy” but there’s no question he became a sort of anti-celebrity early in life and nurtured his own legend as a character of supreme evil, but with some supposedly misunderstood aspect to his character.
When Ed Morrissey wrote about Manson’s passing this morning, he made repeated references to how the madman had died right where he belonged. He concluded with the following:
Manson died where he belonged. Let the parole board and Governor Brown take that as a victory, and apply that lesson to the other Manson “family” convicts.
While I can understand the sentiment when I hear it from others, I simply can’t agree. This isn’t an occasion that I could accept as a “victory” for the Governor, for the families of Manson’s victims or for society as a whole. Or if it is some semblance of a victory, it pales in comparison to the dark victories that Manson racked up over the years.
First, last and always, Manson was a narcissist and a megalomaniac. He suffered from paranoid delusions, but always saw himself as some sort of messiah figure, becoming enraged when others didn’t “get it.” He had his twisted “family” around him because he needed an audience. (These aren’t original insights I’m describing here. The man has been documented like few other criminals in American history and medical professionals have long wrestled with what made him tick.)
Manson’s pre-prison life was the stuff of legends. He got to hang around with famous movie stars and musicians. He even had some music published. It seems that far more than money, drugs, women or the trappings of wealth, Charlie wanted fame. He wanted people to know his name. And even after his cult’s murder spree and the permanent end to his freedom we kept feeding it to him on a silver platter. He appeared on the cover of the Rolling Stone with a feature article titled, “The Incredible Story of the Most Dangerous Man Alive.”
Manson must have loved that more than life itself.
He’s been interviewed countless times for documentaries and retrospective news pieces. People always kept talking about Charlie and he just ate it up. And the ride lasted for a very long time. That’s the part we should really be considering when seeking to put this all in perspective. When Charles Manson died he was 83 years old. That’s a very long life for anyone in this country, and by all accounts he generally got by pretty well in prison.
You know who didn’t live to be 83 years old? Sharon Tate. Nor did Sharon Tate’s unborn child. Nor Jay Sebring. Nor Wojciech Frykowski. Nor Abigail Folger.
When California waffled on the death penalty, people who were scheduled to receive the ultimate penalty for the worst crimes mankind is capable of got off the hook. Since that time, California has managed to execute William George Bonin (known as the Freeway Killer), Crips founder “Tookie” Williams, Manuel Babbitt, Darrell Keith Rich and more than a half dozen others. The world is a better place for all of those actions. Meanwhile, as Ed pointed out in his article, Debra Tate has been traveling back and forth to parole hearings and other court appearances, battling nightmares of the killers being released. Those burdens are not over with the death of Manson, since members of his rabid pack are still alive and eligible for parole.
Manson kept her dancing to his tune right up until the final year of his life. And there was always someone looking to keep his fame alive. He was still a cult figure with a following, and there was a female fan trying to marry him in prison as recently as 2014.
Manson didn’t “win” in the sense that he would have had he gotten away with his crimes and never faced trial. But he transcended his conviction and got to live his own form of stardom over the course of a far longer life than many good, God-fearing people ever experience. Society had Manson pinned down once with a chance to put him away on our terms. A glitch in the legal process allowed to live a full life and die on his own terms.
Manson wasn’t a winner, but we didn’t win either. He got far, far better than he deserved and justice was never properly served.