Beats hell why I’m so sad to hear about the passing of Vincent T. Bugliosi (1934-2015).
I just kind of adored him. His kind of straight-arrow competence without apparent prejudice is something I associate with the Kennedy-Johnson era (though his most famous case as L.A. County DA, the Tate-LaBianca murders, occurred during the Nixon administration). Go through the impeccably written Helter Skelter — Bugliosi repeatedly condemns the CRIMES of the Manson Family, up, down, left, right and sideways, but it’s very rare for him to put down anyone on the basis of their lifestyle or who they were. He may not even like or approve of the lifestyle, but he is unfailingly respectful, where so many would not have been. He always refers to a “young lady”, a “young man”, a “seeker”, and so forth. He doesn’t talk about “punks” and “nuts” and “weirdos” and “commies” as so many law enforcement people at the time would have done. Was it his legal training? An ethic of fairness? An unfailing sense of P.R.?
Cuz You KNOW he had that, and that was something else I adored about him. If there was a Manson thing, a show, a documentary, a film, a news segment, there Bugliosi was for DECADES. And then he wrote other books on other topics, and frequently commented on them (the O.J. trial, the Lewinsky scandal etc). He loved the camera and it loved him. And the absolute heroic tenaciousness with which he pursued his sometimes apparently hopeless prosecution of Manson himself. Easy to put the kids with the knives behind bars. It took a wizard, and one who would not quit, to put the cult leader there. With increased familiarity with the 1969 events one begins to see the case Bugliosi ultimately made (and forever repeated) as an imposed narrative, an interpretation of some very chaotic, senseless events. I don’t buy his thesis of a race war as motive, at least not completely. But, Jesus, the way he told the story made a great book. My copy of Helter Skelter got so dog-eared from repeated late-night readings it finally fell apart. It’s one of the most unbelievable stories of the 20th century.
Lastly, Bugliosi had a very funny voice. Admit it. He talked funny. Among the many reasons (like those above) I chose to play a parodied version of him in my 2009 play Willy Nilly.
Rest in peace, sir. I think your work may have helped some other souls do that very thing.
Don’t miss Sheila O’Malley’s excellent encomium here.