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Eugene Landy


Last Updated: 1:56am BST 31/03/2006

Eugene Landy, who has died aged 71, earned notoriety in Hollywood as the "Shrink to the Stars", and was the psychologist responsible for treating Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys.

Wilson weighed 22 stone, and was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and manic depressive when he was first placed in the care of Landy during the 1970s. Under Landy's "milieu therapy" programme, he was kept under 24-hour surveillance and subjected to a punishing regime of diet, exercise and mood-altering drugs. Hulking assistants, whom Wilson's friends called "the Surf Nazis", supervised his every waking moment, while Landy coached Wilson in daily social skills, holding up signs with the words "Smile" and "Positive" in bright red ink whenever he appeared in public.

Photographs of the pair from this period show Landy as a small man with a bouffant hair-style, suspiciously white teeth, and the flamboyant suiting of a nightclub magician. Wilson stares into the camera with a fixed grin, as if being manipulated by strings.

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Eugene E Landy was born on November 26 1934 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the only child of a physician and a psychologist. Leaving school at 16 he made an early excursion into showbusiness, producing a nationally syndicated teenage radio show and discovering a 10-year-old guitar-playing shoeshine boy named George Benson, who would become a celebrated jazz guitarist.

In his early thirties, Landy resumed his studies, earning a master's and doctorate from the University of Oklahoma. He moved to Los Angeles, and became a clinical psychologist and lecturer at the University of Southern California. In 1971 he published The Underground Dictionary, a lexicon of the hippie jargon that Landy had picked up in his work at a community health centre for young people, much of it drug- and sex-related. Definitions included "Groovy: great, fantastic, joyful, happy'; "Grip: masturbate" and "Flower: the philosophy of the flower comes from the fact that the flower is among the most natural of all things in nature; it is free, needing nothing more than the earth, air and sunshine to live. It is peaceful and lives its beauty freely." Landy described the book as "a much needed communications bridge between the Establishment and underground culture", and dedicated it, in the parlance of the day, to "my people".

At the same time, he began ministering to the psychological needs of Hollywood's showbusiness community. His clients included Rod Steiger, Alice Cooper, Richard Harris and the actor Gig Young, who in 1978 died in an apparent suicide pact with his young German wife; both were found shot dead in their New York City apartment.

In 1975, he was appointed by Marilyn Wilson to treat her husband, the Beach Boy Brian, who was in the grip of acute depression and chronic drug abuse. Wilson seemed to improve under Landy's treatment, but a year later Landy was fired after doubling his fee from $10,000 to $20,000. Wilson went rapidly downhill, and in 1983, after overdosing on a combination of alcohol, cocaine and psychoactive pills, he returned to Landy for treatment.

Landy maintained that the success of his treatment depended on his "therapautic team" being given complete dominion over his patient's life, controlling "every aspect of their physical, personal, social and sexual environments."

Between 1983 and 1986, Landy and his assistants lived with Wilson around the clock, charging a fee of some $430,000 annually. When Landy requested more money, Wilson's brother Carl Wilson was obliged to give away 25 per cent of Brian's publishing royalties to cover costs.

Landy also assumed the role of Wilson's manager and was credited as co-writer and "executive producer" on the singer's "comeback" album, released in 1988. In interviews at the time Wilson spoke of his belief that Landy was "a mental telepathist" who could "plant musical ideas in my brain". The psychologist also took a third of the $250,000 advance for Wilson's ghost-written autobiography, Wouldn't It Be Nice (1991), which served primarily as an exculpation of Landy's methods.

In 1989, Wilson's family finally took action, lodging charges of gross negligence against Landy. But Wilson refused to be separated from him. The following year, the family brought another suit, alleging that Landy had attempted to persuade Wilson to change his will, making Landy himself the chief beneficiary, collecting 70 per cent, with the remainder split between Landy's girlfriend and Wilson's two daughters. The case was settled out of court, but a conservator was appointed to take over Wilson's affairs, and in 1991 the courts issued a separation order, forcing Landy out of Wilson's life for good. At the same time, the State of California revoked Landy's licence on the grounds that he had illegally prescribed drugs to Wilson. He was also charged with conflict of interest for acting not only as Wilson's therapist but also his business manager.

Following the Wilson debacle, Landy moved to Honolulu, where he practised clinical psychology until his death on March 22. In 2005 he contributed to an investigation into the high expectations that single people have of holidays. "It doesn't end happily in real life," Landy said. "It ends differently."

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