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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Drugs, diets and coercive control: the sad story of Brian Wilson’s conservativeship

Brian Wilson’s mental health problems began back in the mid-Sixties. He recalled first hearing voices after taking psychedelic drugs. The voices plagued him forever after (“All day every day, and I can’t get them out,” he said four decades later). He was terrified that the devil, disguised in the form of other people, was coming to kill him. 

Trapped by the success of his own genius in the wake of Pet Sounds – and tormented by the voices in his head when he performed live – Wilson drank, ate, and drugged himself into near-oblivion. As rock ‘n’ roll legend goes, he spent two years in bed.

It was Wilson’s first wife, Marilyn, who contacted Dr Eugene Landy, described by Brian Wilson biographer Peter Ames Carlin as a “hustler-turned-psychologist”. 

With his perfectly white teeth and immaculately coiffed hair, Landy specialised in treating dysfunctional Tinseltown types. Landy also did a strong line in self-promotion; clearly, he had designs on the spotlight himself.

Landy declared that Wilson needed 24/7 therapy for at least two years and put together a team, which included himself, a physician, a nutritionist, and handlers to monitor Wilson’s every move.

Landy had success. He put Wilson on a diet – even padlocking the fridge. He shooed away Wilson’s druggy pals, though Wilson was sometimes permitted a joint as a reward for good work.

Peter Carlin described Landy’s endgame: for Wilson to emerge as “a resocialized, detoxified, superproductive artist and citizen”. During an appearance on Saturday Night Live, Landy stood off-stage and held up prompt cards, reminding Wilson to smile. 

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