The 13th Floor

The Great Escape: Was Steve McQueen Almost Murdered By The Manson Family?

Steve McQueen was one of the biggest movie stars in the 60s and 70s known for his handsome good looks and heroic on-screen personas. While Hollywood knew him as “The King of Cool,” McQueen was far from it, and he battled inner demons that would follow him to his grave. Paranoia would take over McQueen’s life after the fateful night of August 9, 1969—the night he narrowly escaped being brutally murdered by the Manson family.

The Manson family murders are one of the most infamous scandals in Hollywood history. Charismatic cult-leader Charles Manson ordered his family members, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Tex Watson, to break into the home of music producer Terry Melcher and kill everyone. As it turned out, Melcher had moved out and actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, moved in, and unknowingly put themselves in danger.

It was August 9, 1969, and Tate, who was 8-months pregnant, and her close friends returned from a quiet dinner at her favorite restaurant, El Coyote. Just after midnight, the peaceful gathering became a nightmare when the Manson family broke into the home and killed everyone there. Tate was stabbed at least 16 times, and the word “pig” was written in blood on the front door.

When the murders were discovered, fear spread through Los Angeles like wildfire. Many celebs had gone to the Tate/Polanski house for parties before. They could have been there that night. They could be next on the murderer’s list. And no one understood that fear better than McQueen.

The night of the murders, McQueen was getting ready to hang out with hairdresser Jay Sebring. Both men had dated Tate before she married Polanski, and they remained close friends with the actress. The pair were invited to dinner with Tate that night, but it was McQueen’s infidelities that led him to blow off the party.

Just before he was set to head out with Sebring, McQueen’s mistress asked him if they could have a romantic night alone. His wife at the time, Niele Adams, explained, “he ran into a chickie and decided to go off with her instead.”

The secret rendezvous with another woman would save McQueen’s life. While he was off with his lover, his friend Sebring was being murdered alongside Tate and the rest of her guests.

When the Manson family were picked up for the murders, Atkins told another inmate all about what they had done. She insisted there was an entire hit-list full of celebrities they wanted to kill in the future. Included on the list were Hollywood heavy hitters like Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor—and Steve McQueen.

Following the news of a possible hit list, McQueen became fearful for his life. He wrote a letter to his attorney looking for confirmation that all the Manson family members were captured, and he wanted his gun permit re-instated. From that moment on, McQueen carried a loaded Magnum with him everywhere he went—including Sebring’s funeral.
Apparently, McQueen was a target of Manson’s long before the party. Allegedly, the Hollywood-obsessed Manson approached McQueen outside his production company, Solar Productions, several months before the murders even happened.

Manson presented McQueen with a movie script he wanted made, and when McQueen denied it, a fight occurred. McQueen allegedly broke Manson’s nose, and his pride. The altercation would place McQueen on Manson’s death list, and the rest is history.

The Manson family murders shook the lives of many in Hollywood, including McQueen’s. Whether the actor was actually a target that night—or any thereafter—is debatable. But, if the rough-and-tough, gun-toting action hero were there that night, maybe the murders would have gone down differently.

Letter transcript:



October 17, 1970

Mr. Edward Rubin
Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp
6380 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90048

Dear Eddie:

As you know, I have been selected by the Manson Group to be marked for death, along with Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones. In some ways I find it humorous, and in other ways frighteningly tragic. It may be nothing, but I must consider it may be true both for the protection of myself and my family.

At the first possible time, if you could pull some strings and find out unofficially from one of the higher-ups in Police whether, again unofficially, all of the Manson Group has been rounded up and/or do they feel that we may be in some danger.

Secondly, if you would call Palm Springs and have my gun permit renewed, it was only for a year, and I should like to have it renewed for longer as it is the only sense of self-protection for my family and myself, and I certainly think I have good reason.

Please don’t let too much water go under the bridge before this is done, and I’m waiting for an immediate reply.

My best,
(Signed, ‘Steve’)
Steve McQueen


cc: William Maher