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The tragic story of Dennis Wilson’s death, Beach Boys drummer

Dennis Wilson death


The tragic story of Dennis Wilson’s death, Beach Boys drummer

Dennis Wilson was one of the Wilson brothers that were part of the legendary Beach Boys. The brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl formed the band with their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine to change the music industry forever with classic albums such as Pet Sounds (1966).


Dennis had a unique lifestyle in the group. Rebel, always at mad with his father, Murray, he was the only beach boy who actually surfed. Also if he hadn’t suggested the theme for the first single of the band, “Surfin ‘”, maybe the Beach Boys wouldn’t even exist.

Dennis Wilson Beach

At first, Dennis didn’t play any instruments, but in a few weeks he learned to play the drums (in the studio, he was usually replaced by the contracted musician Hal Blaine). On stage, he played with not much technique, but with race and speed.

Dennis had a vocal solo on each Beach Boys album. And from the late 1960s, the drummer began to compose. Although obscured by the most talented brothers Brian and Carl, he created striking songs for the albums 20/20, Friends, Sunflower Carl and more. Sunflower’s “Forever” became a hymn among Dennis worshipers.

Dennis Wilson meets Charles Manson

A womanizer, he lived the typical routine of a millionaire rock playboy in Los Angeles. However everything changed one day in 1968, when he gave a ride to two girls. He didn’t know, but they were followers of Charles Manson. Who would soon be running a series of brutal crimes. Dennis liked Manson, an aspiring singer and songwriter, and invited him to live in his mansion for a while.

The drummer even convinced the Beach Boys to record a song by him, originally called “Cease to Exist”. The band reworked the song and recorded it under the name “Never Learn Not to Love”.

In 1971, the musician even tried to become an actor and starred in Two-Lane Blacktop, Cult road movie with James Taylor. In the midst of a troubled career, he found a little love stability alongside model Karen Lann. But he drank and smoked a lot, and little by little his voice was getting worst. The sea and the freedom in it were Dennis’ greatest passion. In the mid-1970s, he bought Harmony, a luxury residence boat, and lived in it for years.

Irresponsible and spender, he was expelled several times from the Beach Boys. Him and his cousin Mike Love didn’t like each other. With financial difficulties, he was unable to pay for Harmony: the boat was taken from him and then sank. Despite the problems, he recorded the LP Pacific Ocean Blue, which quickly became a cult following album. Then he started working on Bambu, but the album was never released while he was alive.

His last years were marked by illness, alcoholism and drug addiction. Bankrupt, precociously aged and away from the Beach Boys, Dennis depended on his friends’ help.

Dennis Wilson death cause

Since November 1983, the musician was homeless and living a nomadic life. He stayed in a therapy centers for a few days and then in hospitals to treat wounds. However he always discharged himself a started drinking again. In December 28, three weeks after his 39th birthday, Dennis drowned at Marina Del Rey after drinking all day and then diving in the afternoon to recover his ex-wife’s belongings. Previously thrown overboard at the marina from his yacht three years earlier amidst their divorce. Forensic pathologist Michael Hunter believed that Dennis experienced shallow water blackout just before his death.

Funeral in the ocean

His funeral took place in an unusual place, in the very ocean, a fact that only happened thanks to the help of a special admirer: President Ronald Reagan. The presidential intervention appears to have been the only time the U.S. commander-in-chief has volunteered to organize someone’s funeral. The information comes from records obtained through the Reagan Library, the American National Archives and the Coast Guard.

Buried in the sea

The afternoon the death of the musician was revealed, Reagan was at his California home during Christmas and New Year’s break. When the president learned of the accident with Dennis, according to Craig Fuller, a cabinet assistant, he asked his advisers to do everything possible to help the family.

What followed was a mobilization by authorities to have Dennis Wilson’s body, at the request of his wife, Shawn Love, be “buried” in the Pacific as soon as possible. On a peaceful Wednesday, a vessel took three of Dennis’ sons, Shawn and his younger brother, Carl Wilson, on a 45-minute voyage into the ocean, until they reached international waters.

The Beach Boys band

The ship stopped in an area about 183 meters deep, the minimum required by American law for such funerals. “All I could see was my father’s body disappearing into the water forever,” wrote Scott, one of Dennis’ sons, in 2016.

The ‘burial’ caused discord among family members. The idea of ​​taking Dennis to the sea came from the widow Shawn Love, who stated that this would be a wish of the musician. Brian Wilson and Brother Carl were opposed to the ceremony. Some time later, letters sent by the White House to the Coast Guard showed gratitude for the institution’s swift action in arranging funeral procedures in a short space of time. “They followed a request, not an order,” said W. Dennis Thomas, Reagan’s assistant for legislative affairs.

“The Beach Boys ‘entire career is bathed in Dennis’ love of the ocean,” recalls Jardine. “It was only right that he went back there,” he says.

I am a brazilian journalist, a classic rock and heavy metal lover. Music has always been part of my life, helped me through tough moments and was with me to celebrate the good ones. When i became a journalist i knew i wanted to write about my passions. After college I did a postgraduate degree in digital communication. This has helped me to make the website better and bring the best of classic rock to the world! MTB: 0021377/MG

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