Charles Manson Reportedly Had Steve McQueen on His "Hit List"

Bullit actor Steve McQueen narrowly avoided the murders that rocked Hollywood in 1969.

Just after midnight on Aug. 9, 1969, four followers of cult leader Charles Manson entered the rental home of Valley of the Dolls actor Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski. They then brutally murdered the four people who had gathered there that night for a soiree, including an eight-months-pregnant Tate, as well as a teen visitor in the driveway. They moved on to another home afterwards and murdered two more people in an infamous killing spree that rocked American culture.

There was one person on the guest list who never had arrived at the deadly get-together, however. As revealed in the 2012 book Steve McQueen: A Biography by Marc Eliot, Hollywood leading man Steve McQueen had planned to join the victims for dinner that night, making his great escape only when he followed his libido elsewhere. Before long, the actor would learn not only of his friends' brutal deaths but that plans for his own narrowly avoided murder had been outlined on a vengeful hit list by Manson. Read on to learn more.

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Sharon Tate's former fiancé invited McQueen to a party on Cielo Drive.

Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate in 1966
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Although long married to dancer Neile Adams, McQueen was known to be a relentless philanderer. According to Eliot's book, among his likely affairs was a young Tate, whose affections he and their mutual friend Jay Sebring (pictured above with Tate) had reportedly shared before (and perhaps after) she married Polanski. On Aug. 7, 1969, McQueen visited Sebring, the leading hairdresser for male stars of the era and Tate's one-time fiancé, for a trim. The two then went out to lunch, and Sebring invited him to a dinner planned for the next day at 10050 Cielo Drive.

He was interrupted by an invitation from a female friend.

Steve McQueen in 1969
McCarthy/Express/Getty Images

McQueen told Sebring he would attend and even invited his The Magnificent Seven and Bullit co-star Robert Vaughn to come along. (Vaughn already had plans.) McQueen likely would have been in the house when the Manson cult entered, had he not canceled his plans after receiving a call from "a young and beautiful blonde he was seeing at the time…[who] told him she had a better idea for just the two of them," according to his biography. Adams has confirmed this account, telling The Telegraph that McQueen skipped the dinner in favor of one-on-one activities when he "ran into a chickie and decided to go off with her instead."

McQueen's name was on Manson's "hit list" alongside other major stars.

Frank Sinatra in 1956
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When the Manson Family was apprehended two months later, police found a hit list that Manson created of celebrities the group planned on killing, as well as the proposed methods of their deaths. McQueen was on the list, with his murder planned to look like he had taken his own life. Frank Sinatra was also named, with plans to off him as he had sex with one of Manson's followers; they had a similar fate in store for singer Tom Jones. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton would be killed simultaneously, according to the document. In prison, Family member Susan Atkins would later reveal even more sadistic and violent deeds they had plotted out for those celebrities.

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McQueen had made the hit list for getting into a physical fight with Manson.

Steve McQueen and Neile Adams in 1966
Graphic House/Archive Photos/Getty Images

In the years prior to the killings, Manson had hovered at the edges of Hollywood, running into the likes of the Beach Boys and Neil Young as he sought out a music career of his own. This time left him holding a number of grudges for slights both real and perceived. Sinatra and Jones, for example, were fellow singers Manson felt he was in competition with; he further thought Jones had sold out. As for McQueen, he had landed on the murderer's bad side through an actual altercation. Months earlier, Manson had reportedly approached McQueen with a script he hoped to have produced. When McQueen didn't take the bait, a fight ensued that supposedly led to the star breaking Manson's nose.

McQueen was never the same after learning he had been targeted.

Steve McQueen in 1970
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In the weeks following the murders, nearly all of Hollywood felt like potential prey, but none more so than McQueen. The product of a volatile, traumatic childhood, the actor reportedly launched into a state of hyper-vigilance, bringing a gun to the memorial for the Manson victims—and carrying one everywhere else he went. While he would ultimately succumb to an untimely death of a different sort when he died of a heart attack after having surgery to remove a tumor caused by asbestos-related mesothelioma just over a decade later at age 50, in his remaining years, he wired his home with the latest security technology, according to his biographer Eliot. Away from the safety of home, he was equally in arms, traveling with a set of personal bodyguards "instructed to shoot first and ask questions later," the author wrote.

Joel Cunningham
Joel Cunningham is a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn. Read more
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