Friday, September 25, 2009

Sharon Tate's Killer Dead at 61

By Steve Evans

Sharon Tate's unborn child would be 40 years old this month if she and her baby had not been stabbed to death on Aug. 9, 1969, by a woman named Susan Atkins.

Tate (left) was married to Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski and was pregnant with his child when she was murdered.

For those of you who don't remember or were not born when it all went down (and the sixties came to a crazy conclusion), Susan Atkins was a follower of Charles Manson. Now, little Charlie Manson had already spent more than half his life in various prisons when he was finally incarcerated for leading a cult of drug-addled misfits to murder in furtherance of a half-assed revolution during the humid days of August, 1969, effectively killing the spirit of the 1960s and forever tainting a classic Beatles album with his feverish interpretations of Helter Skelter.

By her own admission, Atkins (in her mug shot, lower right) was blitzed on LSD when she murdered the Hollywood starlet and participated in the killings of at least six other individuals on Manson's orders, all stemming from the cult leader's chimerical belief in Helter Skelter -- what Manson deemed a "race war" that would result when blacks would revolt against whites -- leaving him in charge of a New World Order. All of this was "prophesied" by Manson's deranged interpretations of lyrics in the Beatles' classic White Album from 1968.

You need only see photos of Manson to know the score. He was clearly insane in 1969 and remains so to this day at the age of 74. It's not really necessary to check out the Swastika that bug-eyed Charlie carved into his forehead. (In the photo below, right, Manson passes behind Atkins during their 1970 murder trials.)

Susan Atkins died Thursday in a California prison hospital of complications related to brain cancer after being denied parole 13 times. She lost a leg to amputation in recent years as a result of her cancer. She appealed for parole again last year under California's merciful release laws for terminally-ill prisoners and was turned down by the state parole board. Again. Despite her pleas for mercy.

Susan Atkins showed no mercy for Sharon Tate, who was just beginning to gain recognition as a serious actress after mostly frivolous roles in films such as Valley of the Dolls and her husband's horror-film spoof, The Fearless Vampire Killers (both 1967). Atkins hacked Sharon Tate with a knife and later testified that the starlet had begged for the life of her unborn child until both of them were dead. The coroner's report noted that Tate was stabbed 16 times. Five of the wounds "in and of themeslves" were enough to have been fatal, according to the autopsy report.

Atkins said she scrawled the word "PIG" on the front door of the house Sharon Tate lived and died in, at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon outside Los Angeles. The letters were written in Sharon Tate's blood.

LIFE magazine published pictures of Roman Polanski inspecting the murder scene and one image (left) of the director seated outside the house near the front door with the faint lettering P-I-G down the middle. He appears as a man haunted, mere feet from the fading, rust-colored blood of his dead wife.

The images were taken shortly after Polanski returned from London, where he was preparing to shoot a film when he received the news his wife and child had been murdered. If Polanski had been in the house that night, there would be no Chinatown (1974) or Tess (1978), based on Thomas Hardy's immortal classic Tess of the D'Ubervilles. Polanski never would have won an Academy Award for directing The Pianist (2001). Such are the vagaries of fate.

More importantly, Sharon Tate would be 66 years old today. Her baby boy would be 40.

Atkins claimed she became a born-again Christian during her 39-year stay as a guest of the California penitentiary system. She renounced Manson and expressed remorse for her crimes.

And yet.

I am reminded of the closing line in the film Se7en (1995). William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) intones softly in voiceover before the credits roll:

"Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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