If you’re reading this (lol, hi), you’re likely still covered in popcorn and spiraling after just having watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-nominated movie puts notorious serial killer Charles Manson and his followers, the Manson Family, back in the spotlight and, um...we need to discuss the movie’s ending ASAP. Obviously, everything we’re about to talk about is a huge-huge-huge-huge spoiler, so peace right TF out of this article if you don’t want anything ruined for you.
First up: Here’s how Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ends
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ends on August 8, 1969, when Cliff (Brad Pitt) and Rick (Leonardo DiCaprio) return to the States from Italy at the same time as the Manson Family arrives in Rick’s neighborhood with the intention of murdering the actress Sharon Tate and her friends. But Tarantino gives this infamous night a twist: Rick has a confrontation with the Family in his driveway while they’re scoping out Sharon’s house, and he is a huge ass to them. As a result, the Manson Family returns to murder Rick and Cliff—not Sharon. Cliff ends up fighting them off and we get (more or less) a happy Hollywood ending. In other words, Sharon’s life is saved.
If you’ve seen Inglourious Basterds, you know Tarantino loves rewriting history. But sadly, the ending of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is not what happened to Sharon in real life. Far from it.
Okay, so what *really* happened?
On August 8, 1969, several members of the Manson Family (including Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel) snuck into 10050 Cielo Drive, the Los Angeles rental property where Sharon and her husband, movie director Roman Polanski, were living. Roman wasn’t home that night—he was in Europe working on a movie—but Sharon was, and tragically, the Family attacked and killed her. She was eight and a half months pregnant at the time.
The whole event was truly horrific. Along with Sharon, the Family also murdered four people who were staying at the Tate/Polanski home: Sharon’s friend hairstylist Jay Sebring, Roman’s friend Wojciech Frykowski, the Folger coffee heiress Abigail Folger, and Steven Parent—a friend of the caretaker for the property, who was shot and killed on the Family’s way in.
So...WHY? For two reasons, apparently. (1) Charles Manson was upset that producer Terry Melcher (who used to rent 10050 Cielo Drive) hadn’t shown interest in making a record with him. Manson was fixated on this rejection, so he told Watson to take a group to “that house where Melcher used to live” and “totally destroy everyone in [it], as gruesome as you can.” (2) The murders were apparently part of Manson’s grand plan to ignite an apocalyptic race war he called Helter Skelter, which he thought was prophesied in code on The Beatles’ White Album. It’s obviously deranged, so don’t even try to understand it.
The specifics of what happened to Sharon and her friends are absolutely awful. Jay, Wojciech, and Abigail were each stabbed repeatedly (Wojciech was stabbed 51 times), while Sharon was stabbed 16 times. And—warning—this part is particularly gruesome: Watson said that as Sharon was being killed, she cried out “mother...mother.” Heartbreaking.
The Family appeared to show no remorse after the murder spree, writing “pig” in blood on the front door since Manson had asked them to “leave a sign...something witchy.”
So...what happened to Manson and the Family?
In other words: Were they caught? Ironically, Manson and 25 members of the Family were arrested just a few days after the murders but for another crime entirely (auto theft). The police didn’t figure out they were responsible for what became known as the “Tate murders” for legit months.
The group was eventually tracked down, and on April 19, 1971, Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten were sentenced to death (and so was Watson but in a separate trial). Buuut their sentences were reduced to life in prison once the death penalty was abolished in California. Watson, Van Houten, and Krenwinkel are still in jail, while Atkins died in 2009. Manson died in prison from “natural causes” in November 2017.
Sooo, yeah. Not exactly the same ending as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, huh?
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