Life Story: Dennis Wilson

He loved women, drugs, booze and was the surfer in the band, we take a look at the life and work of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson

Dennis Carl Wilson was born on Monday, December 4, 1944 to Audree and Murry Wilson in Centinela Hospital, Inglewood, California, the middle of the three Wilson brothers, Brian was born 1942 and Carl in 1946.  Growing up, Dennis was the rebel of the family, constantly in trouble with their notoriously harsh father Murray. Dennis was the pretty one. He loved life, loved booze, loved drugs and loved women.

Urged by cousin Mike Love, Dennis' brother Brian formed the Beach Boys to write songs about surfing.  The band formed in August 1961 and were immediately managed by the svengali that was the boys father Murray. Dennis was the only real surfer in the band and was given the role of drummer, he had very little musical experience but picked up the basics quickly.

From the beginnings of the band, Murray Wilson pushed the boys and they quickly found success, the pay off were the psychological extremes that Murray also pushed them to.  Dennis couldn't cope and Brian didn't do any better, paying the price of Murray's attitude toward him for most of his adult life.

In 1965 Dennis married Carole E. Freedman. Carole had a son from a previous marriage, Scott, whom Dennis adopted. The couple had a daughter, Jennifer who was born in 1967. It wasn't to last though, Dennis filed for divorce from Carole on December 21, 1966, the action was dismissed and then in June 1967, Carole filed for divorced and the couple finally split.

It is as a direct result of Dennis' friendship with Charles Manson that The Beach Boys were associated with Manson and the Family. In 1968, Dennis picked up a couple of female hitchhikers, and took them back to his place on Sunset. That was opening the door. By the next night, the place was crawling with Family members, including Charlie himself. Dennis became fascinated by Manson and his followers. The "Manson Family" lived with him for a period of time afterwards, at his expense.

Initially impressed by Manson's songwriting talent, Dennis introduced him to a few friends in the music business, including Terry Melcher whose home on Cielo Drive would later be rented by director Roman Polanski and his wife, the actress Sharon Tate. Tate and several friends would later be murdered at their home by Manson Family members.

Recording sessions for Manson were held at Brian Wilson's home studio and have never been released though The Beach Boys did recorded one of Charlie's songs that made it onto the 20/20 album. Charlie's version was called Cease To Exist though The Beach Boys changed the lyrics and renamed it Never Learn Not To Love. Dennis was once asked about the integrity of recording that song and he responded by saying that Charlie didn't want a writing credit, he wanted cash and as he'd stolen enough from Dennis there was a justification in recording the song without giving Manson any royalties.


Below: Charles Manson - Cease to Exist


Below: The Beach Boys - Never Learn Not To Love

After the high peaks and deep valleys of the Beach Boys career during the late '60s, Dennis began writing songs, and finally matured as a songwriter 'Little Bird,' and 'Be Still' for 1968's Friends. Throughout the early '70s, there were at least two Dennis songs on each LP, often ballads that suited his voice and persona beautifully. He made his first attempt at a solo album as early as 1970, but quietly just released a single called 'Dragon' credited to Dennis Wilson and Rumbo.

Dennis' tumultuous personal life continued.  He married Barbara Charren on August 4, 1970. Their son Michael was born in February 1971 and their second son, Carl, was born in December 1972. They divorced in August 1974.

1975 saw him resume work on his album, recording with friend and producer Gregg Jakobsen to complete Pacific Ocean Blue. Dennis Wilson had completed his solo debut before either of his brothers, and it charted inside the Top 100, higher than either of the Beach Boys' next two LPs.

Dennis' next marriage was to a second Barbara.  This time it was Barbara Lamm the former wife of Robert Lamm, keyboardist of the group Chicago in 1976. Dennis and Karen divorced on September 19, 1977. They reconciled and were remarried in July 1978. Dennis filed for divorce two weeks later, and their second divorce was final in June 1980.

Though Dennis had started work on his second album (provisionally titled Bamboo) even before the release of Pacific Ocean Blue, he was facing increasing problems in his personal life.  His substance abuse was causing delays. While two songs ended up on L.A. (Light Album) the sale of the Beach Boys' Brother Studios prevented him from having a place to experiment with his music. Though he and Carl Wilson temporarily left the band during 1980, he eased back into the regular touring rotation during the early '80s.

Dennis married for the last time in 1983, his bride was Shawn Marie Love, allegedly Mike Love's illegitimate teenage daughter. that Dennis supposedly married to piss Love off.  They already had a child, Gage Dennis Wilson, who was born on September 3 1982.


Dennis had owned a 62-foot Yacht, called Harmony when he had money in the bank and The Beach Boys were at the height of their fame.  It was his pride and joy. Once he stood on the ship and looked out into the water and said that the ocean is where he belonged, and that's where he wanted to be buried.

His passion for alcohol and coke held fast leading to a very tortured relationship with the rest of the group. He would be invited back to perform with them, the addictions would get in the way and he would get the sack. He'd enter rehab, rejoin, relapse and then leave again. He had fallen behind in payments for the yach and the bank had repossessed it. The band had cut him off financially in the hope that he would complete a rehab program but nothing worked.

At the end of December 1983, Dennis was once again out of rehab, unsuccessfully. He took to hanging out at the docks where his old Yacht used to be berthed. He met up with old pal Bill Oster, who had a yacht called Emerald.  Separated from his wife, Dennis and his girlfriend Crystal McGovern spent the night of the Tuesday the 27th December on the yacht drinking.

When he woke on Wednesday morning, he began the day with screwdrivers. He and Bill cruised around the marina in a rowing boat to visit old friends, and returned to The Emerald. After lunch at around 3 o'clock, Dennis announced he was going for a swim. Nobody took him seriously because the water was so cold but equally everyone knew that he was unpredictable and determined.

Dennis plunged into the water wearing only cut-off jeans, and swam to the spot where the Harmony was docked.  He combed the ocean floor and emerged from the water holding a picture of an ex wife, that he had thrown from Harmony years before in a fit of anger. Dennis dove again for more treasures.  He resurfaced after the second dive, stating that there was a large box at the bottom of the ocean and he needed rope to lift it up.  After the third dive, he didn't resurface.

Dennis was known as a joker and nobody worried too much., but after checking the local bars to see if he was hiding out there and not finding him, the Harbour Patrol was alerted.  Dennis had drowned, it took four divers working in the dark with a pole to probe the ocean floor just 30 minutes to find his body. Dennis was buried at sea, he was only 39 years old.

When Charles Manson learned of his death, he said 'Dennis Wilson was killed by my shadow because he took my music and changed the words from my soul'.  What else would you expect?



Tags: dennis wilson the beach boys charles manson the family 

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