Convicted mass murderer and cult leader Charles Manson, 83, died Sunday, Nov. 19, after being hospitalized. His death reminded Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston of his brush with Manson years ago. That's right, Walter White and Charles Manson once crossed paths, but their meeting was all too real for Cranston. According to Cranston, he was just 12 years old when he encountered Manson in 1968. The Emmy-winner shared his Manson story on Monday via Twitter.
In the tweet, Cranston recalled that he was horseback riding at the Spahn Ranch — the primary home of Manson and his followers from 1968-1969 — with his cousin, when he "saw the little man with crazy eyes whom the other hippies called Charlie," according to his Tweet.
"Hearing Charles Manson is dead, I shuddered. I was within his grasp just one year before he committed brutal murder in 1969. Luck was with me when a cousin and I went horseback riding at the Span Ranch, and saw the little man with crazy eyes whom the other hippies called Charlie."
In 2016, Cranston described his encounter in-depth in an interview with The Daily Beast. During his interview with writer Marlow Stern, the actor recounted that he and his older cousin were checking out horses for the day when a young man called out, "Charlie's on the hill!" At the time, neither Cranston nor his cousin had any idea who Manson was, and they were puzzled as to why his appearance would cause such a stir.
"We were checking out our horses at Spahn Ranch, which is very close to where I was raised," Cranston told Stern. "We noticed that the people around there were all strange in their own kind of interesting way. There was an old guy [Spahn] checking us in and some guy in his twenties came in yelling, 'Charlie’s on the hill! Charlie’s on the hill!' Everybody looked around and there was this frantic nervous energy going on, and they all jumped on horses and away they went. We asked the old guy what was going on, and he said, ‘Oh, it’s nothing. It’s happened before.’ We thought, well, Charlie must be someone important."
Later in the day, as Cranston and his cousin were riding along the trail, the actor said he glimpsed Manson riding a horse, looking dazed as someone else held the reins. In his interview with Stern, Cranston continued,
"There were about eight or so people, and there was a man in the middle on a horse but he wasn't holding his own reins—there was someone on the horse in front holding the reins—and Charlie, I guessed, was this comatose, bearded, long-haired guy with big eyes riding as if he’s just stuck to the back of a horse. Totally zoned out. You couldn't take your eyes off him."
It wasn't until after the Manson Family's murder spree that Cranston and his cousin realized how close they had come to the infamous cult leader. Roughly six months after Manson's arrest, Cranston and his cousin saw the man's face on the news, and they recognized him as "Charlie," the man who seemed to be so beloved at the ranch. "And we thought for a second, oh my god, what if?" Cranston told Stern. "It was very freaky, to say the least."
During the summer of '69, members of the Manson family carried out a series of murders in Los Angeles, at Manson's behest. The most famous victim was Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski, who was eight months pregnant at the time of her murder. Manson was convicted of directing the murders in 1971, according to CNN. At the time of his death, Manson had served 46 years in prison.
Meanwhile, Cranston would go on to play one of TV's most frightening characters — Breaking Bad's mild-mannered high school teacher turned deadly drug lord, Walter White. While Walter was certainly an imposing figure, this is one case where truth is much scarier than fiction. Cranston is lucky that his brush with the Manson Family left him with nothing more than a chilling story to tell.