December 28, 1983 – Dennis Carl Wilson was born on December 4, 1944 in Inglewood, California. He was the second oldest of the three Wilson brothers. The Beach Boys formed in August 1961 under the strongwilled guidance of father Murry Wilson. Though the Beach Boys were named for and developed an early image based on the California surfing culture, Dennis was the only real surfer in the band.
Dennis was initially considered the least talented of the Wilson brothers, surprising everyone later on with his superb songwriting, productions and vocal arrangements. Dennis’ role in the family dynamic, which he himself acknowledged, was that of the black sheep. Though anxiety-filled and aggressive at times he was also sensitive and generous. His musical talent was often overshadowed in later years by his excessive drinking.
Their 1961 debut single “Surfin'” was followed by many chart hits including “Help Me, Rhonda”, “California Girls”, “I Get Around”, “Surfing USA”, “Barbara Ann”, “Sloop John B”, “Good Vibrations”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Fun Fun Fun” and “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)”. His original songs for the band included “Forever”, “Little Bird”, “Slip On Through” and “Do You Wanna Dance”.
In the late 1960s, as drug abuse and psychological issues led to Brian withdrawing from the group, Dennis began to write songs himself. At one point, he collaborated with Charles Manson, who, along with some of his female followers, stayed in Dennis’s house in the spring and summer of 1968. The Beach Boys even recorded one of Dennis and Manson’s songs, “Never Learn Not to Love.”
Dennis also worked on non-Beach Boys projects. With Billy Preston, he co-wrote the popular song “You Are So Beautiful,“which became a worldwide hit for Joe Cocker in 1974.
Branching out into film, Dennis appeared alongside James Taylor in Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). And he was the first Beach Boy to put out a solo album: Pacific Ocean Blue (1977). His collaborators on the album included Daryl Dragon, the ‘Captain’ of Captain & Tennille and Gregg Jakobson. Despite positive reviews, the album peaked at No.96 in the US and sold only around 300,000 copies.
His follow-up album, Bambu, was initially scuttled by lack of financing and the distractions of Beach Boys projects. A sampling of its music was officially released in 2008 as bonus material with the Pacific Ocean Blue reissue. Two songs from the Bambu sessions, “Love Surrounds Me” and “Baby Blue” were lifted for the Beach Boys 1979 L.A. (Light Album).
Within the Beach Boys, an acrimonious relationship developed between Dennis and Love in the 1970s. With his alcoholism prompting out-of-control behavior, the group sometimes banned Dennis from their concerts. In 1983, he was told that he needed to sober up in order to take part in an upcoming tour.
Dennis signed into a detox unit in late December of 1983, but left the facility on Christmas Day. For a month prior to his death, Dennis had been homeless and living a nomadic life. In November 1983, he checked into a therapy center in Arizona for two days, and then on December 23, checked into St. John’s Medical Hospital in Santa Monica, where he stayed until the evening of December 25. Following a violent altercation at the Santa Monica Bay Inn, Dennis checked into a different hospital in order to treat his wounds. Several hours later, he discharged himself and reportedly resumed drinking immediately.
On December 28, 1983, 24 days after his 39th birthday, he went to Marina del Rey, where he crashed on a friend’s yacht (his own boat had been sold to meet financial obligations). Dennis drowned at Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles, after drinking all day and then diving in the afternoon, to recover items he had thrown overboard at the marina from his yacht three years prior. When he couldn’t be located after a dive, his friends raised the alarm. Rescuers recovered his body at approximately 5:45 p.m. An autopsy showed evidence of cocaine in his system, as well as an elevated blood alcohol level. Dennis was 39 when he died.
At the time of his death, Dennis—who had been married five times, twice to the same woman and had a relationship with Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac fame—was married to Shawn Love, the 19 year old daughter of his Beach Boys bandmate and cousin. Shawn insisted that her husband be buried at sea; it was only with the intervention of then-President Ronald Reagan that the at-sea burial by the U.S. Coast Guardwas allowed. Five years after Dennis died, the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.