Love him or hate him, the self-proclaimed "Antichrist Superstar" Marilyn Manson was indisputably among the most notorious and controversial entertainers of the 1990s. Celebrated by supporters as a crusader for free speech and denounced by detractors as little more than a poor man's Alice Cooper, Manson was the latest in a long line of shock rockers, rising to the top of the charts on a platform of sex, drugs and Satanism. Though widely dismissed by critics, his brand of metal nevertheless struck a major chord with the youth market -- on the strength of a masterfully orchestrated marketing campaign, he became a mainstream anti-hero, much to the chagrin of conservative politicians and concerned parents. Manson was born Brian Warner in Canton, Ohio; at the age of 18, he relocated to Tampa Bay, Florida, working there as a music journalist. In 1989, he became friends with guitarist and fellow outsider Scott Mitchell; they decided to form a band, with Mitchell rechristening himself Daisy Berkowitz and Warner adopting the name Marilyn Manson.
With the addition of bassist Gidget Gein and keyboardist Madonna Wayne-Gacy, the group -- originally dubbed Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids -- begin self-releasing cassettes and playing gigs, their Gothic stage show notable for Manson's elaborate make-up and homemade special effects. Jettisioning their drum machine in favor of one Sara Lee Lucas, the band's sound began taking on a harder edge, and by 1992 they were among the most popular acts in the South Florida area. In 1993, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor came calling, offering both a contract with his Nothing Records label as well as the chance to open for NIN the following spring; Manson accepted both offers, and the group's debut LP, Portrait of an American Family, appeared during the summer of 1994. With new bassist Twiggy Ramirez replacing Gein, the group's notoriety began to soar -- most infamously, during an appearance in Salt Lake City, Manson ripped apart a copy of the Book of Mormon while onstage. The Church of Satan's founder Anton LaVey also bestowed upon him the title of "Reverend."
While some onlookers dismissed Manson's behavior as crass audience manipulation, his cult following -- comprised almost entirely of disaffected white suburban teens -- continued to swell, and with the release of the 1995's Smells Like Children EP the band broke into the mainstream, propelled by their hit cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." Berkowitz quit a short time later, and was replaced by guitarist Zim Zum; their next LP, 1996's Antichrist Superstar, debuted at the number three spot on the pop album charts. As Manson's popularity grew, so did the furor surrounding him -- his concerts were regularly picketed by civic groups, and his music was the subject of widespread attacks from the right-wing and religious fronts. Again, however, his quick embrace of the media spotlight called into question the true sincerity of his revolutionary aims -- with a cover story in Rolling Stone and a best-selling autobiography, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, some onlookers doubted whether Manson had sold his soul to Satan, or just sold his soul, period. The glam-inspired Mechanical Animals followed in 1998.