The tragic story of how Brian Wilson's career was almost destroyed by a rogue doctor

24 January 2022, 12:32 | Updated: 29 January 2022, 12:55

By Mayer Nissim

Beach Boys icon Brian Wilson had a controversial relationship with his psychologist, Eugene Landy.

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The creative genius behind The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson has long suffered from mental illness.

He experienced a nervous breakdown in 1964 and resigned from touring, but stuck with the band to mastermind their greatest work, including Pet Sounds and the 'Good Vibrations' single.

But as his health continued to deteriorate, he drifted apart from the group and became a recluse in the mid-1970s.

That was when Brian Wilson first met controversial psychologist Eugene Landy.

His first experience with Landy was a generally positive one. After the round-the-clock "24 hour therapy" treatment, Brian's state seemingly improved.

Brian rejoined the Beach Boys and was the producer of 1976's 15 Big Ones – the first time he had sole production credit on a Beach Boys album since Pet Sounds a decade earlier.

It wasn't all plain sailing, and there were the first signs of Landy overstepping.

Brian Wilson and Eugene Landy
Brian Wilson and Eugene Landy. Picture: Getty

Dr Landy insisted on supervising group meetings, and tried to push his own artistic ideas on the band.

"Brian and I did that together,' Landy claimed of 15 Big Ones.

"Right after that, I had to leave the situation. ... I was interested in making Brian a whole human being; they were interested in getting another album done in time for 1977."

Another bone of contention was that Landy's intensive therapy time didn't come cheap.

Wilson and Landy parted ways at the end of 1976, after the doctor raised his monthly fees to an eye-watering $20,000 ($100,000 in today's money).

In 1977, Brian revealed his mixed feelings about Landy.

Asked if the doctor had too much control over his life, he said: "I thought so, but there was nothing I could do about it and I eventually gave in to it.

"He definitely helped me. It cost over a hundred thousand dollars – he charged a hell of a lot per month."

Wilson seemed to be on the road to recovery.

But after being pushed back into doing significant writing and production work with the Beach Boys – including the de facto 1977 solo album The Beach Boys Love You – he relapsed.

After several years of heavy drug abuse, Wilson suffered an overdose in 1982, prompting his management to push him towards Eugene Landy again.

This time though, Dr Landy insisted on effectively taking over Brian Wilson's artistic and personal life, and didn't seem too bothered who knew it.

Asked in 1984 if he contributed to Brian's songs, Landy told California magazine: "Why not? I influence all his thinking.

"All the Beach Boys contribute, and I’m practically a member of the band."

When Brian Wilson finally released his self-titled solo debut in 1988, Eugene Landy's name was all over it.

Landy was given writing credit on five songs, including 'Love & Mercy'. His wife Alexandra Morgan on three.

The doctor was also named as executive producer on the album, though all these credits were eventually removed when the album was reissued in 2000.

Wilson and Landy also worked on an unreleased follow-up Sweet Insanity, with only bootlegs emerging from those sessions.

It wasn't just about the music, either. Landy also exerted his control over who Brian spent time with, including his bandmates and family.

"Dr Landy doesn't like me to be in touch with my family too much," Wilson said around that time. "He thinks it's unhealthy."

Eventually, with all the allegations of misconduct, the State of California Board of Medical Quality revoked Dr Landy's professional licence in 1989.

One of the reasons cited was Wilson's psychological dependency on Landy, and the doctor eventually admitted wrongfully prescribing drugs to Brian.

Wilson nevertheless kept on seeing him.

In 1991, Brian released his first memoir Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story, but there was an irony to that title.

As well as recounting his horrific upbringing at the hands of his abusive father Murray, the book allegedly had portions ghostwritten by Dr Eugene Landy – and gave him an awful lot of credit.

The pair eventually parted in 1992, the year after Landy was given a restraining order banning him from contacting Wilson.

The Wilson family had discovered that Brian's will had been changed to make Landy the main beneficiary.

Asked in 2015 about his time with Landy, Wilson told CBS that he remembers: "Unhappiness Being tortured. All that stuff", but he's also shared more mixed feelings over the years.

"I don't regret it," Brian told The Guardian in 2002 of his years with Landy.

"I loved the guy, he saved me. Exercise saved me. There is no drug in the world like it. He pushed me beyond my limits and stopped me being fearful of the world."

In 2015 he told the New York Post: "I still feel that there was benefit. I try to overlook the bad stuff, and be thankful for what he taught me."

Brian Wilson and Eugene Landy
Brian and Eugene in later years. Picture: Getty

Looking back, perhaps the first crack in the relationship between Wilson and Landy was way back in 1986, when car saleswoman Brian met Melinda Ledbetter.

They struck up a friendship, and she reported Landy to the authorities for ethical violations.

Nothing came of it at the time, and Landy actually ordered Brian to stop seeing Melinda in 1989.

The couple reconnected and got married in 1995, with Ledbetter becoming Wilson's manager in 1999

"I was in the right place at the right time to help him," she told The Washington Post in 2007.

"What he's missed out on is an environment where he feels safe. He didn't have that before with his family, his old band, his doctor, his first wife. But he finally has that."

After he lost his licence in California, Eugene Landy continued to work in New Mexico and Hawaii until he died in 2006 from pneumonia, while suffering from lung cancer.

A biopic about Wilson and Landy's relationship called Love & Mercy was released in 2014, starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as Wilson and Paul Giamatti as Dr Landy.

After parting ways with Eugene Landy, Wilson eventually went back in the studio and on the road.

In 2004, he remade the lost Beach Boys album Smile, as Brian Wilson Presents Smile, winning his best reviews since the 1960s.

And this year, a new documentary Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road has been released, taking an intimate look at Brian's life.