EXCLUSIVE: Beach Boy Brian Wilson tells how he was tortured by his father who took out his glass eye and made him look inside the space, ballooned to over 300 pounds and was abused by his charlatan shrink
- Beach Boy Brian Wilson was raised by an abusive father, suffers from severe anxiety and has heard voices in his head almost his entire life
- Born in 1942, he was the oldest of the three sons - his brother Dennis was born in 1944 and Carl in 1946
- His father, Murray Wilson, steered his three sons, who became the Beach Boys, into singing and playing in the garage
- But he was rough and tough with his boys, grabbing them by the arms, shoving them, hitting them with open and closed hand
- In the mid-1970s, Wilson had a mental breakdown and Dr Eugene Landy, a psychotherapist later denounced as a Svengali was called to help
- Landy took control of Wilson's life, charging him up to $35,000 a month for treatments that left him poorly groomed, ashamed and afraid
By all accounts - including his own - two-time Grammy winning musician, singer, songwriter Brian Wilson should not be alive today.
Raised by an abusive father, his anxiety attacks began when he was 14 years old, and constant voices screaming in his head drove him to escape into drugs, alcohol and finally the hands of a charlatan doctor to silence what was diagnosed as mental illness.
In spite of it all, Wilson, now 74, became a musical genius - albeit a tortured soul - and co-founded along with brothers Dennis and Carl, arguably the quintessential American band, The Beach Boys.
'Many people on the planet deal with some type of mental illness. I've learned that over the years, and it makes me feel less lonely. It's part of my life. There's no way around it. My story is a music story and a family story and a love story, but it's a story of mental illness, too', Wilson confesses in his new memoir, I am Brian Wilson: A Memoir, published by Da Capo Press.
Beach Boy Brian Wilson was raised by an abusive father, suffers from severe anxiety and has heard voices in his head almost his entire life
Wilson (front right) was a member of the Beach Boys. The group is pictured above in 1964 from left to right clockwise: Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson and Mike LoveF
Brian grew up in Hawthorne, California, in a house no longer there. His father’s family was near by but he doesn’t write about them or his father very much because of the negative feelings he had toward his father who was physically and verbally abusive
As early as the 1940s, Wilson was struggling with anxieties as he was growing up in Hawthorne, California, five miles from Los Angeles International Airport, a city saturated by airplane exhaust fumes.
And then there was the constant noise from the Hawthorne Municipal Airport.
The three Wilson brothers, who came to be known as the Beach Boys, grew up in a humble but troubled home with a sweet mother who was a homemaker and an abusive father.
Wilson, born in 1942, was the oldest of the three sons; His brother Dennis was born in 1944 and Carl in 1946.
Only a few miles from the ocean, they hardly went to the beach.
When their father took them to the Pacific coast beaches where there was little surfing, the size of the ocean frightened Wilson and he had no interest in the sport after getting conked on the head with a board.
He later went deaf in one ear after a neighborhood kid hit in the head with a lead pipe.
It has affected him his entire life and forced him to turn his head so he could hear out of the other ear and speak out of one side of his mouth.
His father, Murray Wilson, worked for a company that sold lathes but he loved music and steered his three sons into singing and playing in the garage he had converted into a music room.
Brian was nuts about baseball growing up and the best of the three boys. At seventeen, he thought he’d be a major league baseball player
Life was simple back in 1953 for brothers Dennis, Carl and Brian Wilson growing up in Hawthorne. The house was so small all three boys shared a bedroom
Brian (pictured front and center) was a rapid Yankees fan despite growing up in Los Angeles home of the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers
Brian wrote his philosophy for a paper in high school in 1959. He was already thinking about ‘a place in the world’ but still dealing with dark family issues suggesting 'a family should live coordinately and happily together'. He wasn’t happy with his father
Murray Wilson (pictured), Brian’s father, sang with Brian’s mother when they were little and got the whole family to sing together
He sang and wrote songs himself that were even performed on the Lawrence Welk show.
But Murray Wilson's personality was as bad as his love for music was good.
He was rough and tough with his three sons, grabbing them by the arms, shoving them, hitting them with open and closed hands.
'My dad was violent. He was cruel,' Wilson writes. He drank too much and became a monster - and he didn't know how to deal with his son's fears.
'Whenever I got afraid, he would yell at me or slap me or call me a p***y,' Wilson says.
He'd slap the boys across the face again and again and again.
'When he didn't put his hands on us, he tried to scare us in other ways. He would take out his glass eye and make us look into the space where the eye used to be,' writes Wilson.
He adds: 'Sometimes I provoked my dad. Once I took a s**t on a plate and brought it to my dad. "Here's your lunch," I said.
'He was sitting down with his pipe in his mouth. "Get in the bathroom," he said. Then he came in and whipped the hell out of me. I was bringing the plate to him because of the times I didn't deserve. There were hundreds of those times, at least.
The brothers were already singing together at home when Brian was in high school in 1959 and performed a song ‘Bermuda Shorts’ for their high school assembly that fall. The band formed as the Beach Boys in 1961
Plaid jackets worked for the band in one of their earliest school concerts singing their trademark surfing songs
Brian gave up his baseball dreams to pursue music. One of the earliest local gigs for the band was playing at Leonard’s Department store. His father is in the background overseeing their performance
Early in their career, Brian taught the Boys their parts during the Smile sessions in 1966. Wilson conceived of the album in 1966, it was recorded and was to be his answer to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, but it was ultimately abandoned when the rest of the band found it too far out
'Maybe the worst thing about my dad was how he dealt with my fear. He couldn't deal with it.'
Still, Murray was the main force behind the band's early years and 'brought us from the garage to the Pendletones [the first name of the group] to the Beach Boys.
'We were just kids. We might not have gone forward the way we did without my dad,' Wilson writes.
It's no surprise that Wilson's anxiety spells started when he was 14. The spells started as stammers and stutters in his speech, but that ended after six months.
He had panic attacks that came on in the 1960s on a flight to Houston with the band.
'I felt like I was slipping away from myself,' Wilson writes.
He lost confidence in the studio while recording and didn't know how to get it back. He calls it 'ego death'.
'I didn't know if anything would ever come back to life,' he writes.
He started smoking pot in late 1964 and then moved on to marijuana and cocaine some five years later.
He writes he also liked Seconals, downers - 'they were a relax pill'.
Wilson's father, His father, Murray Wilson, steered his three sons, who became the Beach Boys, into singing and playing in the garage. Pictured above is members of the Beach Boys from left to right: Carl Wilson, Mike Love (back), Brian Wilson (front), Dennis Wilson and Al Jardine on an unknown date
In his new memoir, I am Brian Wilson, the musician details his struggles with weight, mental illness and drugs
He started meditating after meeting the Maharishi, and for a year the process calmed him down. But suddenly, the treatment just stopped working.
'The drugs weren't something that I liked for themselves. They were ways of dealing with the fact that my head wasn't right. But they didn't solve a thing,' Wilson writes.
On bad days he hid in his apartment or house, wherever he happened to be living at the time.
He says: 'Sometimes I had to go to hospitals for a little while to relax and think – or to relax and not think.
'It was hard at those hospitals. They were unfamiliar places. The lighting was different than what I was used to and the sounds were different and I had a hard time sleeping'.
On one such occasion in the late '60s, he was in bed trying to fall asleep when he heard a noise at the door.
'I turned and there was a guy there with a huge hard-on. I looked away from it, up to the guy's face, and it looked just like Tonto! I mean the actual Tonto from the TV Lone Ranger show, Jay Silverheels. I wasn't sure that it was him. He had everything but his horse, Scout,' Wilson writes.
'"Are you Tonto?" I said. He just stared at me. Then he turned and left he doorway.
Wilson, pictured in 1979, said his father was rough and tough with his three sons, grabbing them by the arms, shoving them, hitting them with open and closed hand
Photos were shot in 1966 for the album Smile that didn’t surface for some 40 years. The rest of the band didn’t like the music and Brian (pictured left and right) was struggling with his 'mental illness', hearing voices
Brian was back on tour in 1977 with the band and a psychotherapist came into Brian’s life to try to get him in shape physically as well as mentally with therapy, meditation and special diets
'My body was filled with drugs and alcohol, and my brain was filled with bad ideas. Back then mental illness wasn't treated in a straightforward way.
'I felt stuck because I was depressed, and that caused me to gain weight, and then I felt stuck because I had gained weight. I got up to over 300 pounds. I wasn't going onstage with the group'.
The voices that have plagued Wilson for 50 years began when he first took LSD when he was 22 years old.
Wilson writes: 'LSD was something that people told me made your mind larger…
'The first time I took it, I had to go hide in a bedroom, and I thought mostly about my parents and whether I should be afraid of them.
'I also started to play what became "California Girls" on the piano.'
A week after taking LSD, the voices emerged.
Wilson writes: 'My whole life I've tried to figure out how to deal with them. I've tried to ignore them.
'I've tried to chase them away with drinking and drugs. I've been fed all kinds of medication, that didn't work. I have had all kinds of therapy.
'They'd sound like a real person's voice, a person different from me who I couldn't control, but inside my own head. I didn't know what to do with them.'
Wilson quit acid for a year after the voices emerged. But doctors told him that the voices didn't start because of the acid - they would have surfaced anyway.
In the mid-1970s, Wilson (left) had a mental breakdown and Dr Eugene Landy (right), a psychotherapist later denounced as a Svengali was called to help
But Landy (pictured right with Wilson)took control of Wilson's life, charging him $35,000 a month for treatments that left him poorly groomed, ashamed and afraid
'But I'm not sure. I didn't have them before,' Wilson says.
'They are frightening,' he adds, saying the voices generally left him alone in the studio when he was working on a record. 'Alcohol didn't work, and drugs didn't work, and sleeping didn't work, and never sleeping didn't work.
'Those are the voices that people call mental illness.'
'The voices won't disappear, so I have to make sure that I don't disappear because of them,' he concludes - but not before terrifying years of listening to them say, "Your music is no damned good, Brian. Get to work, Brian. You're falling behind, Brian. We're coming for you, Brian. This is the end, Brian. We are going to kill you, Brian."'
Even sitting in the theater meditating before a recent concert in London, his spiritual home, the voices are there - along with influential voices from the past including Chuck Berry, Phil Spector, and his father asking, 'You got any guts?'
Back in the mid-1970s, married to his first wife, Marilyn Rovell, it all came crashing down and Dr Eugene Landy, a psychotherapist later denounced as a Svengali and a snake oil salesman, had to be called in to rescue Wilson from himself.
Landy called his treatment 24-hour therapy.
Friends had to be interviewed and pass inspection before visiting Wilson.
He could never be alone with anyone and had to be monitored to make sure no one was bringing him drugs.
He was able to bring Wilson's weight down from 300 pounds to 185 but when he found out what Landy was charging, Wilson hauled off and threw a punch.
Landy hit back and that ended that cycle of treatment – for the time being.
In 1978, Wilson went into a mental hospital in San Diego - out of control of his thoughts and his body. But he did realize his marriage to his first wife, Rovell wasn't working and he asked for a divorce
Brian lived with his first wife, Marilyn at a house (the pool pictured above) on Laurel Way in Beverly Hills back in the late sixties. He had a sandbox in the living room with a piano in it
In 1978, Wilson went into a mental hospital in San Diego - out of control of his thoughts and his body. But he did realize his marriage to his first wife, Rovell wasn't working and he asked for a divorce.
'I drank Bali Hai wine and did cocaine and smoked cigarettes and my weight went higher than ever; at one point I tipped the scales at 311 pounds,' he writes.
He got out of the hospital the following year and flew to New York to do a concert with the Beach Boys at Radio City Music Hall. He was able to get through one song before retiring to the side of the stage.
Eventually he was out of money and fired from the band after exhausting their patience with his demands.
This time it was the Beach Boys who called in Dr Landy. But his brother Dennis wasn't on board with that suggestion.
Landy took his charge straight to Hawaii to start an exercise regime and get cleaned up from drugs.
Back home, everyone still had to be monitored and approved by the doctor who started giving Wilson more and more pills, which he called vitamins.
But corruption was seeping in. Landy had barbeques at Wilson's house and invited only his family and other doctors.
'He let me have a margarita every once in a while. He screamed so loud it made me cry,' Wilson writes.
Wilson tried to ask Landy why he was here but the answers were questions – like 'Why aren't you clean'?
'There was food on my clothes. I wasn't cutting my nails regularly, and no one else was either,' Wilson writes. 'I couldn't focus because of the medication, but I also didn't want to focus because I was ashamed and afraid.
Melinda was the woman of Brian’s dreams and they walked down the aisle in 1995. He attributes his survival through his darkest periods of mental illness to her love and finding a support network, the right doctors and right medications
Brian met his adored second wife, Melinda Ledbetter in 1986 while she was selling Cadillacs. They became friends, then sweethearts and then husband and wife. She helped him escape from the evil clutches of the therapist Eugene Landy who tried to take over his life
'So many days during that time were just a waiting game from sunrise to sunset, to the moment they would end.'
Landy wanted his patient to depend on him for everything and his methods were violent reminding Wilson of his father, but Landy was angrier and there was no love.
Wilson's memoir, I am Brian Wilson, will hit bookstores on October 11
Landy started out charging Wilson $25,000 a month for his treatment but there were additional expenses. He was living in Wilson's Pacific Palisades house and remodeled it with Wilson's money.
He took his family to Hawaii for a month and sent Wilson the bill. The monthly expense kept escalating until it reached $30,000 in the late '80s and then in the early '90s, it skyrocketed to $35,000 a month.
Landy urged Wilson to get into the studio to write more music where he'd be co-credited as songwriter.
Wilson was under the spell of the Svengali for nine years – until car saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter, now 70, came into his life when he walked into a Cadillac showroom with Landy and his cohorts.
He bought a car from Ledbetter and handed her a card that read 'lonely, scared and frightened'.
She recognized the singer was in trouble, heavily drugged and a friendship and then courtship began. Ledbetter called his mother and brother and helped get the goods on Landy who was trying to become the sole inheritor of Wilson's estate.
With Ledbetter, they went down to Hollywood Boulevard to see a movie almost every night and Wilson spent hundreds of dollars on souvenirs 'like I was a tourist or a junk-aholic'.
Wilson's life is now back on track. He and Ledbetter now live in a house in Beverly Hills, California, with their five children (four pictured above in 2009), who are all adopted
Wilson was scared to make new music until his new doctor, Steve Marmer helped Wilson get his balance back.
'They say there are things that matter when you are dealing with mental illness: finding the right support network, finding the right medication and finding the right doctor.'
Dr Marmer was the right doctor. He didn't bully his patient but was supportive and couldn't believe the growth once Wilson was able to get back up on stage.
Receiving the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008 was a thrill for Wilson for his ‘contribution to American music and my lifetime achievement in the field’
'One of the hardest things was overcoming the fear that I would never make music the same way again,' Wilson writes.
Life is charmed now for Wilson. He and Ledbetter live in a house in Beverly Hills, California, with their five children.
When he's home in LA, he spends most of his time sitting in his favorite chair watching television.
He writes: 'I love being in the chair. If I'm in Los Angeles, I'll end up there 100 percent of the days.
'I love watching Eyewitness News. The content is not very good, but the newscasters are pleasant to watch.
'I like game shows, but I'm getting tired of watching Jeopardy! It's the same bull**** every day. I like Wheel of Fortune. I like sports, too, mostly baseball though I'll also watch basketball and football.'
And he misses his two brothers, Carl who died almost 20 years ago and Dennis more than 30.
'I wonder why the two of them went away, and where they went, and I think about how hard it is to understand the biggest questions about life and death. It's worse around the holidays. I can really get lost in it,' Wilson writes.
But Ledbetter is there to get him back on track.
Wilson is so back on track, that he just started a concert tour with his album Pet Sounds – conjunct the release of his memoir.
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