Tracing Marilyn Manson’s Blurred Lines Between Shock Rock and Alleged Abuse

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Before Evan Rachel Wood and four other women accused Manson of abuse, the 1990s goth-pop hitmaker had a long history of disturbing rhetoric and alleged impropriety. Did his status as a willful provocateur affect how that was received?

Marilyn Manson in 2020
Marilyn Manson in 2020 (Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for The Art of Elysium)

Note: This article contains descriptions of alleged sexual misconduct and physical abuse.


While Marilyn Manson’s artistic persona has long hinged on shock value, at times glimpses of reality have slipped through, some of which suggested that perhaps your parents were right to be concerned about him, after all. By far the most serious accusation emerged this week, when actor Evan Rachel Wood, 33, named the 52-year-old Manson, her former fiancé, as her alleged abuser. “He started grooming me when I was a teenager and horrifically abused me for years,” Wood’s statement reads. “I was brainwashed and manipulated into submission.”

Manson has denied the allegations, maintaining that his relationships have always been “entirely consensual.” Last year, his team suggested that some of his more outrageous previous remarks about Wood were essentially made in character, as a “theatrical rock star.”

It would indeed be inappropriate to conflate Manson’s art with real life. But Manson has a long history of public pronouncements and legal cases that blur the lines between Marilyn Manson, the persona, and Brian Warner, the person. And claims of willful provocation and boundary-pushing do not diminish the seriousness of Wood’s allegations. Below is a brief timeline of how Manson’s larger-than-life caricature and real-life behavior have intersected, from his early flush of 1990s notoriety to recent allegations.

February 1998: Manson publishes an autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell. As critiqued by music journalist Jim Derogatis in the Chicago Reader, the book depicts Manson “generally mistreating one or more women per page.” The most notorious chapter, “Meating the Fans / Meat and Greet,” relates an encounter with an admiring deaf woman, who gets covered in meat, has sex with multiple band members, and is urinated on by Manson and another band member. The scene is presented in the book as consensual, but subsequent critics acknowledge it is “unseemly.” Elsewhere, the book describes hosting women for backstage contests to see who can hold in an enema the longest.

November 1998: Manson is involved in an altercation with Craig Marks, then executive editor of SPIN. In a lawsuit, Marks alleges that Manson threatened to kill him and his family in a dispute over the magazine’s cover. In an interview years later with Rolling Stone, Manson claims that he “got arrested for putting a gun in the mouth of an editor of SPIN” and “hid from the law” at Trump Tower. Manson was not in fact arrested, as Rolling Stone noted. The lawsuit is eventually settled out of court.

August 2001: Manson is charged with assault and sexual misconduct after allegedly rubbing his crotch on a Detroit security guard’s head. He eventually pleads no contest to lesser charges of disorderly conduct and assault and battery, for which he receives a $4,000 fine. He also settles a lawsuit filed by the security guard.

December 2001: Manson is sued by a Minneapolis security guard who claims that Manson rubbed his crotch against this guard’s head as well. A jury later finds Manson not liable in the civil suit, which alleged battery and emotional distress.

April 2002: Manson is sued for wrongful death by the mother of a woman who died in a car accident after he allegedly gave her drugs. Manson calls the lawsuit “completely without merit” and denies the allegation that he provided the woman with drugs. Paper later reports that the matter is settled out of court.

 

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