Dennis Wilson, the freedom lover Beach Boy was born on this day in 1944

Dennis was the only real surfer in the band

Dennis Wilson, the freedom lover Beach Boy was born on this day in 1944

Dennis Carl Wilson was born on December 4, 1944 in Inglewood, California, he co-founded the Beach Boys with his brothers Brian and Carl Wilson in 1961 and Though the Beach Boys developed their image based on the California surfing culture, Dennis was the only actual surfer in the band. In the early years of the Beach Boys, Brian gave him the role of the drummer. Dennis quickly learned the basics of drumming at school lessons and, like the other members, he picked up more on the job. Though given few important lead vocals on the early Beach Boys recordings, he sang lead on “Do You Wanna Dance?,” the group’s 1965 hit. Later that year Dennis sang a rendition of The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” By that time the Beach Boys were one of the world’s most famous Rock bands, unlike his brothers, Dennis enjoyed a bohemian life in California that including hang out with strangers, that’s when he crossed paths with Charles Manson.In 1968, Dennis was driving through Malibu when he noticed two female hitchhikers, Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey.  He picked them up and dropped them off at their destination. Later on, Dennis noticed the same two girls hitchhiking again. This time he took them to his home  then went to a recording session. When he returned later that night, he was met in his driveway by a stranger, Charles Manson. When Wilson walked into his home, about a dozen people were occupying the premises, most of them female. Dennis became fascinated by Manson and his followers; the Manson Family lived with Dennis for a period of time afterwards at his expense, costing Dennis up to $100,000 in money, cars, clothes, food, and penicillin shots for the Manson Family’s persistent gonorrhea. Initially impressed by Manson’s songwriting talent, Dennis introduced him to a few friends in the music business, including the Byrds’ producer Terry Melcher, whose home at 10050 Cielo Drive, Some of Manson’s songs would be recorded at Brian’s home studio. These sessions for Manson were produced by Brian and Carl. Dennis recorded a Manson song for the Beach Boys, originally titled “Cease to Exist” but reworked as “Never Learn Not to Love” (1968), a single B-side. It was credited solely to Dennis. Angered by this, Manson threatened murder. As Dennis became increasingly aware of Manson’s volatile nature and growing violent tendencies, he finally made a break from the friendship by simply moving out of the house and leaving Manson there. When Manson subsequently sought further contact (and money), he left a bullet with Dennis’ housekeeper to be delivered with a cryptic message, which Dennis perceived as a threat.  In August 1969, Manson Family members went to the former house of Byrd’s producer 10050 Cielo Drive, by then rented by director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate, where they murdered Tate and several others, and later they also committed theTate/LaBianca murders; Manson was eventually convicted for murder conspiracy.

For the remainder of his life, Dennis would not speak publicly of his involvement with the Manson Family, telling prosecutors that he knew nothing of the killings or Manson’s motives, as he was frightened of Manson getting out of jail or putting a hit on him. Towards the late 1960’s as  Brian withdrew more and more from active participation with his group, Dennis stepped up as a major creative force of the Beach Boys,  having learnt production techniques from observing his brother. On December 4, 1970, Dennis released his first piece of solo material, a little-known single released only in Europe and the UK under the name “Dennis Wilson & Rumbo.” The single featured “Sound of Free”. By 1977, Dennis had amassed a stockpile of songs he had written and recorded while factions within the Beach Boys became too stressful for him. Dennis released his debut solo album “Pacific Ocean Blue” in 1977. The album sold poorly, peaking at No. 96 on the US Billboard album chart. Dates were booked for a Dennis Wilson solo tour but these were ultimately cancelled when his record company withdrew concert support in light of poor sales of the album and a perception that he was becoming increasingly unreliable. He did occasionally perform his solo material on the 1977 Beach Boys tour.Despite Dennis claiming the album had “no substance”, “Pacific Ocean Blue” received positive reviews, later developing status as a cult item.  In succeeding years Dennis abused alcohol and heroin. An alleged bar fight which resulted in some damage to his throat at some point in the early to mid 1970’s had taken a toll on his voice. For a month before 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, Dennis drowned at Marina Del Rey 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. He was 39 years old. Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Hunter believes that Dennis experienced shallow water blackout just before his death. Dennis’s widow Shawn Love reported that Dennis had wanted a burial at sea, and brothers Carl and Brian did not want Dennis cremated. As non-veterans of the Coast Guard and Navy are not allowed to be buried at sea unless cremated, Dennis’s burial was made possible by the intervention of President Reagan. In 1988, Dennis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously as a member of the Beach Boys.

Watch a promotional clip about Dennis Wilson’s cult masterpiece “Pacific Ocean Blue”

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