Sharon Tate’s film career was on the rise when, at 26, she was brutally murdered by several followers of the Manson family on Aug. 9, 1969. Tate, along with celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, writer Wojciech Frykowski, coffee heiress Abigail Folger (also Frykowski’s girlfriend) and Steven Parent, was killed at the Los Angeles property that Tate shared with her husband, director Roman Polanski. Tate was more than eight months pregnant when Manson’s followers tied her up and stabbed her 16 times, killing her.
On Oxygen’s upcoming documentary special, “Manson: The Women,” attorney, author and Manson Family expert Deborah Herman spares no words in describing Tate’s death.
“There was no empathy, no concern. It was a bloodbath,” Herman said. “It was evil … certainly the killing of Sharon Tate and the baby was … evil incarnate.”
Tate was beginning to truly break out in Hollywood when her life was tragically ended, but beyond the context of her infamous death by the followers of Charles Manson, who was Sharon Tate?
The Rising Star
Sharon Tate was born on Jan. 24, 1943, in Dallas, Texas. Her father was a U.S. Army officer, and she frequently moved to different cities throughout the United States, as well as Europe, with her family.
“We were always traveling, often into a different country, and that makes it hard on keeping friends,” Debra Tate, Sharon’s sister and last living immediate family member, told the New York Times in 2018. “So, the only thing that you have really is each other.”
Tate began her modeling career before she could even walk. She won her first beauty contest at 6 months old, earning the title Miss Tiny Toy of Dallas, Texas. Her career continued into her teens, as she modeled for fashion magazines and competed in beauty pageants. Her acting career kicked off in the 1960s while her family was living in Verona, Italy. Tate had her major film debut in “Barabbas” as an extra.
Tate became a more regular presence in the media once her family settled back into Los Angeles. She had experience shooting commercials and taking on minor roles in TV shows; she eventually captured the attention of a wider audience with her performance in “Valley of the Dolls,” for which she received a Golden Globe nomination. The film became a cult classic.
Tate and Polanski
Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski first met after producer Martin Ransohoff introduced them in the mid-1960s. Ransohoff was attempting to help Tate get a role in Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers” – Tate landed one of the leading roles and would co-star with Polanski himself, according to The Independent. Tate had already been dating Jay Sebring, a well-known Hollywood hair stylist, but the two consensually split once Tate and Polanski developed a relationship. She moved into Polanski’s London apartment after filming ended, and the two married on Jan. 20, 1968.
Photojournalist Evan Peters described Tate and Polanski as “the imperfect couple.”
“Curious, unafraid, they helped demolish the ancient Hollywood image of what movie stardom was all about,” Greg King quotes Peters as saying, in “Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders,” a biographical book that focuses on the victims of the Manson family. “They became part of the anti-establishment establishment. They became rich, but never regal.”
Tate and Polanski spent a lot of time away from one another because of their separate involvements in the film industry — Tate was becoming a star, and Polanski was already established and growing busier as a director. Even as Tate became pregnant with Polanski’s son and the two moved in at 10050 Cielo Drive, in the quiet Benedict Canyon neighborhood of L.A., Tate continued acting and Polanski continued his film work in London.
On the evening of Aug. 8, 1969, Tate invited some friends over to their rented home to keep her company while her husband was still in London. Late in the evening she and her three guests were gruesomely murdered. A teenager, Steven Parent, who had happened to be visiting the house’s caretaker was also killed.
Parent “was absolutely the definition of the kid in the wrong place and the wrong time,” journalist Lis Wiehl says on Oxygen’s upcoming documentary special. “Poor kid … just assassinated, and those were premeditated, brutal murders, and the women went along with them.”
Since her death, Sharon Tate’s name has been closely associated with Manson and his deadly cult.
Sharon Tate: The Face of Victims’ Rights
After her death, Tate’s family helped push for the passage of California’s Victims’ Bill of Rights in 1982, which provides victims the right to privacy and restitution. Doris Tate, Sharon’s mother, stepped out of her decade-long silence to petition against the possibility of parole for Manson family member Leslie Van Houten, according to the Washington Post. She also founded the Coalition on Victims’ Equal Rights in San Luis Obispo.
Doris Tate died in 1992 from a brain tumor, according to the Post, and Patti Tate, her youngest daughter, took over her work in victim advocacy until she died of breast cancer in 2000. Since then, Debra Tate, the last of Sharon’s living immediate family, has spoken on behalf of the Tate family.
Sharon Tate in the Media
The murder of Sharon Tate would live in infamy as possibly the most gruesome murder in Hollywood history, as well as one of the cultural signposts of the end of the 60s. Tate’s story has inspired multiple films, including “The Haunting of Sharon Tate,” an American horror-thriller starring Hillary Duff, and Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming star-studded black comedy-drama “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” premiering July 26, 2019.
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