Marilyn Manson ‘Almost Destroyed Me’

Game of Thrones actress Esmé Bianco says her relationship with the singer left her with physical scars and PTSD.

Photo: Ashley Walters
Photo: Ashley Walters

As a teenager in the late ’90s, Esmé Bianco was a huge Marilyn Manson fan. The 16-year-old had posters of him on her bedroom wall in Northern England* and taped pictures of him to her lunchbox. At the time, she was dealing with a friend’s recent suicide, and Manson’s music was the soundtrack to her dark feelings. Bianco’s parents wouldn’t let her go to his shows, but she would listen to his Mechanical Animals album on repeat, belting out the lyrics about feeling numb and scribbling them in her notebooks. In high school, she even dated a Manson look-alike, who wore the singer’s signature white-and-black makeup.

Seven years later, when Bianco got the chance to meet Manson in person, she was thrilled. But she says the encounter led to years of psychological torment and violence that derailed her acting career and left her with physical scars and PTSD. She says he went from being a “massive role model who really helped me through some incredibly dark and difficult times as a teenager” to a “monster who almost destroyed me and almost destroyed so many women.”

Bianco is the latest voice to join the chorus of women accusing Manson, born Brian Hugh Warner, of sexual assault. In the past two weeks, more than a dozen, including the actress Evan Rachel Wood, have come forward on social media with allegations that include being drugged, tied up, and physically harmed by the singer. Since then, Manson’s record label, Loma Vista Recordings; his longtime manager; and his talent agency, CAA, have all dropped him. Bianco provided me with emails, text messages, and photographs from her time with Manson. A lawyer for the singer did not respond to a detailed request for comment about her claims. Last week, Manson called earlier allegations against him “horrible distortions of reality” and accused the women of misrepresenting intimate, consensual relationships “with like-minded partners.”

That’s not how Bianco sees it. She first came forward as an abuse survivor in 2019, testifying in front of the California Assembly to help reform domestic-violence laws. At the time, she wasn’t ready to name Manson. But now, she wants to tell her story in full.

“It’s really surreal,” she says over Zoom from her Los Angeles living room. The 38-year-old redhead takes off her glasses and wipes away a tear. Talking about Manson sends her body into flight mode, but more recently, it also fills her with what she calls a dragonlike strength. “I have this hot energy and power in my chest. I just want to open my mouth and be like ‘Ahhhhhhh’ and rain fire down,” she tells me, sticking out her tongue and waving both hands. It’s a strength Bianco says she didn’t have while playing Ros, a character on Game of Thrones who works in a brothel and is abused in ways that mirror the actress’s personal life. Like Ros, Bianco’s alleged abuse often had an audience: members of Manson’s entourage who now say they witnessed his angry outbursts and Bianco’s bruises, along with the fans and industry executives who dismissed the singer’s violent comments about women as just a part of his stage persona. “He’s told the world time and time again, ‘This is who I am,’” says Bianco. “He hid in plain sight.”

A Polaroid of Manson and Bianco taken by the singer’s assistant, Ashley Walters, during their relationship. Photo: Ashley Walters

Bianco met Manson in 2005 through his then-fiancée, Dita Von Teese. Both women are burlesque performers, and Von Teese said the rock star wanted to meet Bianco. “I was like, pooof,” she says, miming an explosion from her brain with both hands. She says Manson wanted to cast her in Phantasmagoria, the horror film he had planned to make based on the works of Lewis Carroll. She couldn’t believe it. “I thought, My teen idol wants to work with me. Don’t eff this one up.” They saw each other in person a few times, and Bianco even visited Von Teese and Manson at their home in L.A.. After his marriage ended in 2007, Manson kept in touch with Bianco. They would exchange sometimes-flirty emails (“I could always be cheered up with previously-forbidden nude photos,” he wrote to her that February), but she says their relationship was platonic. Bianco got married the next year. (Von Teese’s representative did not respond to a request for comment; last week, she said that she was “processing the news” and would not be commenting further.)

Their dynamic changed in 2009, after Manson sent Bianco a plane ticket from her home in London to L.A. so she could star in the music video for his song “I Want to Kill You Like They Do in the Movies.” He explained that it would be shot on a flip camera for a home-video feel and would involve Manson “kidnapping” Bianco in his home. “I need to have a victim/lover,” he wrote in an email. Bianco believed that the job would be strictly professional. “You are gonna have to pretend to like being manhandled by me. Sorry,” Manson emailed her a few days before the shoot. Once she arrived, she says, the line between art and reality immediately blurred. Bianco, who was 26 at the time, says she spent the next three days in lingerie, barely sleeping or eating, with Manson serving up cocaine rather than food. She remembers him losing his temper and throwing the camera at a smoke alarm. Soon, she says, he became violent, tying her with cables to a prayer kneeler, lashing her with a whip, and using an electric sex toy called a Violet Wand on her wounds — the same kind of “torture device” Wood has said was used on her. Bianco was terrified but tried to calm down by telling herself, It’s just Manson being theatrical. We are going to make great art.

While waiting for her flight back home, Bianco sobbed. At the time, she felt sad to leave Manson and considered her wounds to be proof of their bond. On some level, she knew what had happened wasn’t BDSM; she says they hadn’t discussed consent or safe words, which she knew from both personal experience and the fetish performers in her circle were crucial for safe power dynamics. A few days after the shoot, Manson emailed Bianco a picture of her back covered in welts with a note reading, “bringing sexy back.”

Friends thought it was strange that Bianco, who had been so excited to shoot the music video, didn’t want to talk about it much after she got home. Her former roommate, Hannah Fox, says Bianco told her matter-of-factly about the cuts and bruises as if they were “just part of the biz.” When Fox disagreed — she had managed a fetish nightclub and insisted that a BDSM film clip should never require actual physical injury — Bianco pulled away.

Manson never sent her footage from that trip, and she says he made constant excuses for not yet releasing the video. Bianco’s marriage was falling apart, and Manson began telling her they were soul mates and showering her with attention, even texting her, “You look really beautiful on the footage that we shot on the kneeler.”

They began a long-distance affair. Manson would visit her on his trips to London and arrange for her to travel and stay at hotels in L.A. (“Get your lingerie and heels ready,” he wrote in one email.) When they would meet, Bianco says, Manson would bite her during sex without her consent, leaving her whole body bruised. She says the singer called it kinky, and she wanted to believe everything was normal. During this period, Manson’s personal assistant, Ashley Walters, says she managed travel for Bianco and other women, many of whom were also flown to L.A. with the promise of photo shoots or music videos. “I was basically giving him a schedule of who’s at what hotel,” says Walters, who recently alleged that she too was a victim of Manson’s. “I didn’t know how far the violence was going at the time.”

Manson and Bianco on her birthday in May 2011. “Despite the plastered-on smile I can see the emptiness and fear in my eyes,” she says. Photo: Ashley Walters

In March 2011, two years after the music-video shoot, Manson asked Bianco to move in with him and promised to help her get a visa while she figured out her acting career. To help with the immigration paperwork, his team gave her a written agreement saying she would star as a nurse in his “forthcoming feature film,” Phantasmagoria, with rehearsals starting in mid-July. At that point, she remembers, her eyelashes were falling out from stress and she was having daily panic attacks, all of which she chalked up to being apart from Manson — the man she thought she was in love with. She had also recently filmed the first Game of Thrones season and was keen to land bigger Hollywood roles. There was nothing left to lose, so she thought, Why not jump off the cliff and hope that something catches me?

Within roughly a week, Bianco had left her husband and moved from London to Manson’s West Hollywood apartment. She says there was a very brief honeymoon period during which Manson showered her with attention, but he soon began to control every aspect of her life. She says he dictated what she could wear (she says he preferred her in a short pencil dress with stockings), her sleep schedule (“I was often violently shaken awake should I go to sleep without permission,” she told the California Assembly), and when she could come and go from the apartment (she says she didn’t have a key). One night in May, Manson sent Walters a text saying someone had broken a glass in the studio and that “Esme is gonna get the brunt of this. Don’t care.”

“I basically felt like a prisoner,” says Bianco. “I came and went at his pleasure. Who I spoke to was completely controlled by him. I called my family hiding in the closet.” Bianco’s friend of 20 years Fraser Knight says he was terrified after she called him from “a cupboard” and tried to play off Manson’s behavior as “annoying boyfriend” antics. He worried that she would cut him off if he told her to leave the relationship, and some contact seemed better than none in this case. “I genuinely thought I might never hear from her again,” he says, his voice breaking.

Others in Manson’s orbit also had to play by his rules. “Whatever he is doing, you should be doing,” says Walters. “If he’s spinning out and staying up, you need to stay up. And if he’s not eating, you just don’t eat.” Walters says that since Manson was nocturnal, her work days started around 7 p.m., and she once stayed up for 48 hours.

“He was doing lots of drugs and drinking a lot,” says Alex, a former member of Manson’s inner circle who has asked to use a pseudonym out of fear that the singer would retaliate against him. “You never knew if it would be a mellow night or him up for two days straight.”

Manson kept the house very cold — in the low 60s — and always had blackout curtains drawn, according to Bianco, Walters, and Alex. (Bianco says if anyone messed with the temperature, the singer would yell.) The carpets and furniture were black, and it was so dark they sometimes had to use flashlights and headlamps to get around and had no idea what time of day it was. But no one challenged Manson, since he could easily become angry and might start breaking things.

“Everybody was dehumanized,” says Walters. “Everyone was constantly walking on eggshells.”

Bianco says that when she moved in, she and Manson agreed to be monogamous. She quickly learned that was not the case. Walters says that while Manson had sex with other women in his studio, she would be asked to keep an eye on Bianco or get her out of the house. The former assistant adds that the singer’s room contained a closet-size glass-walled space he called the “bad girl’s room,” that Manson could lock from the outside.

He hated being alone, according to Walters, and was always surrounded by people — and cocaine. (She adds that she would bring him a tray in bed with food and a glass of absinthe; then he’d snort a line of cocaine off his nightstand.* “That was breakfast,” she said.) The core group included his bandmates, who at the time were staying there most nights recording the album Born Villain in his home studio; Walters; and the various women who came and went. Manson’s mood dictated the evenings. Sometimes he wanted to turn on the smoke machine and party; other times they watched his favorite horror movies on repeat or sat around like hostages beholden to his violent tantrums. When famous musicians, actors, or directors would come over, everyone in his inner circle would have to “put on our happy faces” and make sure the place looked perfect, Walters tells me.

The Game of Thrones pilot aired during Bianco’s stay, and Manson would play her sex scene on a projector for guests; she would feel humiliated. Alex remembers the singer showing it at least four times and saying, “That’s my girlfriend, she’s a whore. Look, her tits are out.” At one party, Manson lifted up her skirt and spanked her butt, which was already covered in a bruise — a moment Walters captured on-camera. Bianco often wore lingerie or dresses around the house, and Alex remembers seeing bruises on her arms and back. He didn’t know if they came from consensual sexual experiences and was too afraid of Manson to ask. In retrospect, Bianco doubts she would have accepted any help. “I think I would have made excuses for him,” she says. “I was in survival mode at that point, and my brain had taught me to be small and agreeable.”

Bianco spent roughly two months living with Manson, drinking heavily to cope. She was often in a dissociative state, “hovering above life like I was looking at it through a net curtain,” she says, raising her hands in front of her face. Once, she remembers, he repeatedly cut her torso with a knife. “I just remember laying there, and I didn’t fight it,” she says. “It was kind of this final-straw moment where I had lost all sense of hope and safety.” He sent a photo of her cuts to Walters and one of his bandmates at the time, with the subject line “See what happens?”

Bianco says she was terrified and like a lot of domestic-violence survivors, she might have developed a kind of Stockholm syndrome that warped her reality. She recently found a text message she had sent to Manson about her cuts and bruises. “Everytime I move they hurt so good thinking of you,” it reads. “Now, when I think about that, I’m so ashamed,” she says. “I was desperately trying to please him and to keep myself out of trouble.”

She says her breaking point came in May 2011, a month after she moved in, when Manson chased her around the apartment with an ax. Walters remembers watching him threaten Bianco with the blade and says the actress appeared to have a panic attack and was “visibly shaken up.”

Bianco started secretly looking for apartments and left one day in June while Manson was sleeping. At first, she thought they just needed some space, but a month later she broke up with him over email. “I had so little dignity left,” she says. “I think that something inside me was just like, Have some sort of respect for yourself.” She was afraid Manson would sabotage her work visa, which was awaiting approval.

After leaving the singer, Bianco went on to star in two more Game of Thrones seasons. Ros, her character, is controlled, threatened and tortured by the men around her in some of the show’s most graphic scenes. In one, she is forced to whip a fellow prostitute with a belt and a wooden scepter. In another, her dead body hangs from a bedpost, bloodied by crossbow bolts. While actors often describe the intensity of shooting violent scenes, Bianco says she just felt nothing. She didn’t realize how triggering her role was until she began to unpack her experience with Manson years later. In 2019, she tweeted a picture of herself on the Game of Thrones set with fake wounds on her back. The image is eerily reminiscent of a photo from her real life, a gruesome picture she posted to Instagram the same year, taken after Manson had allegedly whipped her. The caption reads, “The whipping that gave me these wounds was filmed in the name of ‘art’. I used to look at this photo with pride because I thought it was a sign of great devotion to my abuser. Now I look at it with horror.”

Once her character was killed off in 2013, Bianco started to audition for new roles but struggled to land them. She was a mess, suffering from night terrors and panic attacks that made it impossible to eat or sleep, never mind get hired. “I couldn’t step up to meet that moment in my life because of what he’d done to me,” she says. Knight says that Bianco had always been ambitious and energetic but that after she met Manson, she started “living in a constant state of fear.”

After their breakup, Bianco saw Manson a few more times in public, including after one of his shows in 2013 when, she says, he blocked the doorway to the room at the back of his tour bus and refused to let her leave (Walters says she was there and waited until 5 a.m. for him to let Bianco go). She largely blamed herself for her uncomfortable feelings about the relationship: Hadn’t I put myself in these situations? I was dirty and deserved it. Being able to name the alleged abuse was a slow journey that involved the Me Too movement, years of therapy, and seeing Wood testify before Congress in 2018 about her own experiences with the singer. The parallels between their stories, and hearing Wood label Manson’s actions as “domestic violence,” made something click in Bianco’s brain.

In 2019, the two actresses joined forces. Frustrated by the fact that they couldn’t press criminal charges against Manson because the alleged events had taken place more than three years earlier, they advocated for an extension of California’s statute of limitations on reporting domestic-violence offenses. The Phoenix Act, which extended the statute from three to five years, became state law in 2020. Bianco’s attorney, Jay Ellwanger, says the actress has been interviewed by the FBI and gave agents evidence that could potentially be related to human trafficking and sex crimes. (An FBI spokesperson told me that, “We never confirm or deny investigations.”) Ellwanger is also looking at the case through a trafficking lens, since he says Manson had paid for her ticket to L.A. under the guise of shooting a music video. The lawyer says most trafficking laws are relatively new and are increasingly being applied to situations that overlap with domestic violence, or in cases like the one built against former NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere that don’t involve buying or selling sex.

Two years ago, when Bianco first told her story publicly in the California senate, she broke down a number of times. Although she didn’t name Manson, she was terrified that he would come after her. Now, she talks with a much steadier voice about how speaking out is a “massive relief.” She doesn’t hesitate to call Manson a “serial predator” who has been telling the world for decades about how much he likes to hurt women. “He’s not a misunderstood artist,” she tells me. “He deserves to be behind bars for the rest of his life.”

*This story has been updated to correct the location of where Bianco lived during her teenage years and to clarify Walters’s allegations of Manson’s cocaine consumption.

Marilyn Manson ‘Almost Destroyed Me’