In 1983, Brian Wilson sat down for one of his first interviews after a lengthy period of reclusion. Sat beside him, with his arm coiled around Wilson’s hunched shoulders is Eugene Landy, the man Wilson had hired as a psychotherapist back in 1975, but who, by this time, had become the Beach Boys singer’s executive producer, business manager, co-songwriter, and business adviser.
During the interview, Wilson, dressed in a salmon-pink polo shirt, his hair neatly combed, says nothing. Instead, he keeps his eyes fixed on the ground while Landy speaks for him: “‘He had a year or two to live and he would have died,” Landy begins. “Tom Hullet called me up and said ‘we are worried that Brian Wilson is gonna follow Elvis‘.” At this, Wilson’s eyes widen in dismay: “Oh God, no,” he says, pulling at the skin on his face. “Yeah that’s what Tom said to me, he said we gotta do something, we can’t just let him just stay 300lb. Did you know that?”. It’s clear from the sinister dynamic between Wilson and his therapist that by 1983, Landy was in complete control of the musician’s mind, body, and soul. The question is: how did Wilson end up as the plaything of Landy, and how did he escape his grasp?
Eugene Landy, who himself once harboured ambitions for musical stardom, began treating Brian Wilson in October 1975 after Wilson’s wife Marilyn hired him to give one of his intensive 24-hour therapy sessions. At this time, Wilson was struggling with drug abuse, weight gain, and increasingly erratic and reclusive behaviour, often locking himself in his room for days on end; eating, drinking, taking drugs, and speaking to nobody. Landy’s first move was to diagnose Wilson as a paranoid schizophrenic, prescribe him drugs that basically turned his brain into an over-boiled vegetable, and force him to adopt a strict fitness regime, for which Landy hired a team of assistants, whose job it was to keep an eye on Wilson at all hours. As Wilson’scurrent wife Melinda recalled: “Most of the time, Landy was giving him downers to keep him out of his hair… Around 1988, when Brian’s solo album came out, Brian had a lot of things to do. So Landy would give him uppers”.
But Wilson wouldn’t have agreed to any of this if it wasn’t for the most powerful weapon in Landy’s arsenal: fear. “The first couple of years, he wasn’t very friendly with me,” Wilson told the New York Post. “He could be very stern — that was pretty rough.” Landy kept Wilson in a perpetual state of obedience by telling him that he was at risk of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
After a disagreement concerning fees, Landy was fired in 1976. Following his divorce, however, Wilson’s mental health rapidly declined and he began gaining a huge amount of weight. By 1982, he was something like 300 pounds, at which point Tom Hullett, the Beach Boys manager at the time, called Landy and rehired him. Over the next few years, Landy began exerting his full influence over the singer. As one interviewer wrote of Wilson: “With the exception of taking a brief drive by himself to the market to pick up groceries, Brian appeared to be incapable of making a move without Landy’s okay. During one interview session, the Landy line seemed to ring every thirty minutes. Yet Brian appears to be a willing participant in the program.” Having listened to Wilson’s stories about his abusive and coercive father, Landy became more than a therapist to Wilson; he became his friend. The knock-on effect of this close relationship was that Wilson felt more than comfortable handing over a hefty portion of songwriting royalties to Landy, going so so far as to describe the therapist as a God.
However, by 1988, things had started to unravel for Landy. After visiting a LA car showroom without Landy, Wilson met Melinda Ledbetter, who began to undo some of the manage inflicted on Wilson by his therapist. After working closely with the Wilson family, Ledbetter came across a will that awarded the majority of Wilson’s earnings to Landy in the event of his death. “It seemed to me that Brian was worth more to Landy dead than alive,” she later said. Then, in 1992, the Wilson family filed a lawsuit that banned Landy from contacting Brian. And yet, to this day, Wilson still speaks about him with a worrying degree of sympathy, dedicating his memoir to him with the words: “Without you there’d be no music.” It seems that the influence of Eugene Landy refuses to fade away.