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How Beach Boy Dennis Wilson Came Under the Spell of Charles Manson

Alexandra Dantzer

Charles Manson was an extremely dangerous and enigmatic person who knew how to make people fall for him and his ideas. He would make people want to be around him and his harem of attractive followers without them even noticing it.

In 1968, one year before he committed the atrocious act that ultimately sent him to prison, Manson worked his magic on an unlikely source — The Beach Boys. More precisely he befriended Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys’ drummer and the two of them participated in some Manson-like activities. These included excessive amounts of sex, drugs and violence.

Charles Manson, prison photo taken August 14, 2017

Charles Manson, prison photo taken August 14, 2017

Dennis Wilson’s life is epitomized by a couple of things — womanizing, surfing, his relationship with Manson and his tragic death by drowning. He was constantly seeking thrills which made him live what some people would regard an extreme lifestyle. Anything that granted fun he was on board.

The Guardian shares that on his 1964 All Summer Long album sleeve he wrote, “They say I live a fast life. Maybe I just like a fast life. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. It won’t last forever, either. But the memories will.”

Rock and roll band The Beach Boys walk along the beach holding a surfboard for a portrait session in August 1962 in Los Angeles, California. (L-R) Dennis Wilson, David Marks, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Brian Wilson. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Rock and roll band The Beach Boys walk along the beach holding a surfboard for a portrait session in August 1962 in Los Angeles, California. (L-R) Dennis Wilson, David Marks, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Brian Wilson. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Wilson was a complicated figure, battling cocaine and alcohol addiction and wrecking a total of five marriages. Nevertheless, he was the one that, in a way, made The Beach Boys big.

He gave them an identity exactly because of his lifestyle and good looks, notwithstanding his fierce drumming skills. Even though having him on board came with a cost of managing his crazy moments, for The Beach Boys the good outweighed the bad by far.

Cropped 1971 promotional photo of Dennis Wilson for Two-Lane Blacktop.

Cropped 1971 promotional photo of Dennis Wilson for Two-Lane Blacktop.

It is not remarkable that Wilson found the excitement he was seeking once he met Manson. Their meeting was a sort of an accident. Early in the summer of 1968 Wilson picked up two hitchhikers as he was driving down Sunset Boulevard.

The attractive young women were part of Manson’s family. On the journey they talked about their lives, telling Wilson how they lived under the guidance of the musical guru in a spiritual community. That was enough for Wilson to want to meet Manson as soon as possible.

Charles Milles Manson booking photo for San Quentin State Prison, California (CII 966 856), 1971

Charles Milles Manson booking photo for San Quentin State Prison, California (CII 966 856), 1971

The two of them hit it off immediately. They enjoyed marijuana and listened to Manson’s music. His ability to intrigue people together with the harem of beautiful girls around them were enough for Wilson to decide to hang around a little bit longer.

Dianne Lake, a former family member who did not participate in the killing of Sharon Tate, wrote in her memoir, “We were living free of hang-ups, with no more worries about where stuff was going to come from. Our anti-materialism and practice of living in the now were working. Charlie’s beliefs … were being validated more and more each day. Just the fact that he’d been able to captivate someone as famous as a member of the Beach Boys was proof enough.”

The Beach Boys performing in Central Park for a 1971 ABC Television special

The Beach Boys performing in Central Park for a 1971 ABC Television special

Wilson started learning how to play guitar under Manson’s guidance. Within days the whole Manson family was living within his apartment. At its start, the relationship was truly symbiotic.

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Wilson enjoyed the presence of beautiful women, ready to offer generous love at any time. Manson, on the other hand, got a chance to practice his music with Wilson and got free room and board for his cult. All of them together enjoyed the acid haze and indulged in a 24/7 party life. Wilson experienced the thrills of a life of freedom and adventure, learning how to dumpster dive and live a cheap life off the grid.

Dennis Wilson performing on drums, 1964

Dennis Wilson performing on drums, 1964

Soon enough things went sour. Once when Manson was in Wilson’s studio to record his songs he simply lost it. He did not like Wilson’s team messing with his songs, so he took out a knife and showed the first signs of the aggression he carried within him. In addition, the whole family contracted gonorrhea, and Wilson was the one to pay for the medical bills. He himself was in a direct way affected by this dangerous STD.

Soon after the knife incident, the whole family moved out. In September 1968 Wilson decided to record Manson’s song “Cease to Exist” with slightly altered lyrics. The song rewrite was released by The Beach Boys as “Never Learn not to Love”.

The Beach Boys pictured in 1964

The Beach Boys pictured in 1964

Soon enough Wilson found a response from Manson when he found a bullet in his bed. According to The Washington Post, Manson said, “I gave him a bullet because he changed the words to my song.”

Read another story from us: How “The Rat Pack” Got its Name

Upon ending their short but eventful relationship, Wilson did not want to talk about this phase of his life ever again.  “As long as I live, I’ll never talk about that,” he was quotes as saying about that phase in his life. And as for Manson, we all know how he ended up.