Dennis Wilson

Dennis Wilson Biography

Actor, Singer, Drummer, Film Actor, Songwriter (1944–1983)
Dennis Wilson helped form the Beach Boys and served as the band's drummer. He struggled with alcoholism before accidentally drowning at age 39.


Musician Dennis Wilson was born on December 4, 1944, in Inglewood, California. Along with his two brothers, a cousin and a neighbor, he was a founding member of the Beach Boys. In the group, he played drums, sang and composed songs. However, his musical talent was often overshadowed by his excessive drinking. On December 28, 1983, at age 39, Wilson drowned in Marina del Rey, California.

Early Life

Dennis Carl Wilson was born on December 4, 1944, in Inglewood, California. He was the middle of three brothers. Like his brothers, Brian and Carl, he suffered abuse at the hands of their father, Murry, while growing up.

A more positive aspect of Wilson family life was music, which Murry encouraged his sons to pursue. Dennis, his brothers, a cousin, Mike Love, and a neighbor, Alan Jardine, formed a band together, which was initially called the Pendletones. A surfer himself, Dennis encouraged Brian to write a song about the sport.

Beach Boys Success

In 1961, the group, now dubbed the Beach Boys, released its first single, "Surfin'." The song's popularity led to a deal with Capitol Records. Even though the group released other paeans to surfing—including "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Surfer Girl"—Dennis was the only serious surfer in the Beach Boys.

Dennis, the band's drummer, did not have the same musical gifts that Brian—who composed many early Beach Boys songs—possessed. However, Dennis was an integral part of the group. Aside from drumming, he occasionally sang lead vocals, including for the 1965 hit "Do You Wanna Dance."

Later Career

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." 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). Despite positive reviews, it did not sell well at the time.

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.

Tragic Death

Dennis signed into a detox unit in late December of 1983, but left the facility on Christmas Day. He ended up in California's Marina del Rey, where he crashed on a friend's yacht (his own boat had been sold to meet financial obligations).

On December 28, Dennis decided to go diving in the marina in order to recover items he had previously tossed out of his old yacht. 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—was married to Shawn Love, the 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 was allowed. Five years after Dennis died, the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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