The Manson murders and 10 other Hollywood tragedies that inspired movies

Sharon Tate killed 45 years ago today

It’s been exactly 45 years since actress Sharon Tate, 26, and four friends were murdered by the Manson Family inside her Los Angeles home. The brutal spectacle of the slayings and the cryptic messages left around the crime scene have inspired a morbid fascination that still continues to hold America’s attention today.

The gang of drug-fueled killers, orchestrated by Charles Manson, were responsible for killing seven people in a two-day stretch beginning August 9, 1969. Like many Hollywood murders, Tate’s slaying became a pop culture mainstay, inspiring the creation of books, movies and music.

Publicity photo of Sharon Tate. (Public Domain)

Vincent Bugliosi, author of the best-selling “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders,” recently told CNN, “People seem to be fascinated by things that are strange and bizarre … and there’s a side of human nature that’s fascinated by pure unalloyed evil.”

Helter Skelter” is still the best-selling true crime book ever written, further proving America’s obsession with Manson and his murderous gang of followers. In 1976, the book was made into a television movie with the same title. Several other dramatizations and documentaries about the killings have been produced since.

Sharon Tate’s killing is far from the only Hollywood-area tragedy to be made into a film, here are 11 others that piqued the country’s dark curiosity:

Natalie Wood
Death: Nov. 29, 1981

Publicity photo of Natalie Wood, circa 1958.

Oscar-nominated actress Natalie Wood’s death remains a mystery today. During a night of boating with her husband Robert Wagner and friend Christopher Walken, 43-year-old Wood reportedly fell off the vessel and drowned off the coast of Southern California. In 2011, 30 years after the incident, the case of Wood’s death was reopened by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The 2004 made-for-television film “The Mystery of Natalie Wood” was made about the star and her untimely demise.

George Reeves
Death: June 16, 1959

George Reeves as Superman in a U.S. government film from 1954. (U.S. Treasury Department)

TV’s original Superman, actor George Reeves’ death remains one of Hollywood’s fascinating unsolved mysteries. Found dead of a gunshot wound to the head inside a home that was less than a mile away from the Tate murder scene a decade later, 45-year-old Reeves was labeled a suicide victim. Many conspiracy theories have been spun since the shooting, after the Los Angeles police “(closed) the investigation with what some considered indecent haste,” according to The Guardian. The mystery behind Reeves’ death was dramatized in the 2006 movie “Hollywoodland.”

Elizabeth Short
Death: Jan. 15, 1947

Elizabeth Short’s mugshot, taken in 1943 for underage drinking. (Santa Barbara Police Department)

Nearly 70 years later, the murder of Elizabeth Short (aka: The Black Dahlia) continues to make headlines. This 22-year-old Hollywood hopeful was found split in half in a Los Angeles public park. The case is still unsolved but in 2003, a retired detective began telling the media he suspected his late father was guilty of the slaying. The Black Dahlia murder has inspired several books, a 2006 movie called “The Black Dahlia” and even a successful band’s name.

Rebecca Schaeffer
Death: July 18, 1989

This late-1980s Hollywood tragedy involving a crazed fan and the shooting death of 21-year-old actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Though she wasn’t a household name at the time of her murder, Schaeffer’s tragic end stunned the public and eventually resulted in new stalking laws. Director Brad Silberling, Schaeffer’s boyfriend at the time of her death, recounted the tragedy in his 2002 film “Moonlight Mile.”

Christopher Wallace (Notorious B.I.G.)
Death: March 9, 1997

Notorious B.I.G. in a publicity photo from Bad Boy Records.

Cited as one of the most influential rappers of the 1990s, Biggie Smalls only released one album before his shooting death in Los Angeles. The case of the 24-year-old’s death remains unsolved — autopsy results were released to the public in 2012, igniting new speculation. A 2009 film about Wallace’s life, called “Notorious,” featured the late musician’s son playing an adolescent version of his father.

Lana Clarkson
Death: Feb. 3, 2003

Clarkson’s 2003 shooting death at the home of legendary record producer Phil Spector took her name from relative obscurity to pop culture infamy. In 2009, Spector was found guilty of killing the 40-year-old actress and model. A 2013 HBO movie called “Phil Spector” was produced as a result, with Al Pacino playing the title role.

Thomas Ince
Death: Nov. 19, 1924

Publicity photo of Thomas H. Ince, taken in 1919. (Public Domain)

An early unsolved Hollywood tragedy, the death of American silent film director Thomas H. Ince has been the cause of much speculation since it happened nearly 90 years ago. Reports indicate that Ince died of heart trouble while aboard the boat of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, but conspiracy theorists have suggested he was killed. Ince was 42 years old when he died in the Pacific Ocean off of California. Almost 80 years after his death, the 2001 movie “The Cat’s Meow” was inspired by its mystery.

Marilyn Monroe
Death: Aug. 5, 1962

Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film “Niagara.” (20th Century Fox)

More than 50 years after her sudden death, Marilyn Monroe is still an icon of Hollywood glamor. In 2012, National Public Radio reported that her legacy is making a mint every year thanks to all the merchandise that features her likeness. Monroe’s death was blamed on a barbiturate overdose and the public reaction to the news was captured in a 2008 episode of the acclaimed series “Mad Men.” In 1980, a made-for-TV movie called “Marilyn: The Untold Story” revisited her life and untimely passing.

Dorothy Stratten
Death: Aug. 14, 1980

Similar to Marilyn Monroe, model Dorothy Stratten was a blonde bombshell whose rise to fame included being a centerfold in “Playboy” magazine. According to reports, she was 20 years old when she was murdered by her estranged husband. Two films were made about Stratten’s death in the years following, including 1981’s “Death of a Centerfold” and 1983’s “Star 80.”

William Desmond Taylor
Death: Feb. 1, 1922

Portrait of William Desmond Taylor. (Public Domain)

A Los Angeles cold case since 1922, the murder of silent film talent William Desmond Taylor was perhaps the first Hollywood tragedy to become pop culture legend. It took about 30 years for a movie to be made about the crime and while 1951’s “Hollywood Story” changed the characters’ names, its plot mirrored the true story closely.

Follow this writer on Twitter @MrClintDavis.

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