Dennis was the middle Wilson brother living, as a youngster, in the shadows of his older brother Brian - the genius who drew much of his father's attention (positive and otherwise) and Carl who, of course, was younger and cuter! As he reached his teens Dennis spent less time at home and more and more on the beach. As many have said and written, Denny was the TRUE Beach Boy - the only member of the group who could surf. Denny could also swim strongly, too.
And with his youthful, blond hair, good looks and tanned body he soon discovered it was better to be on the beach or in the back of a car with a pretty girl than to be at home singing round the piano or being beaten by his father. By all accounts Dennis was frequently physically abused by his father but he was a strong young man and these beatings probably harmed Denny far more mentally than physically, for despite what he showed Dennis craved his father's love and approval perhaps even more than Brian did.
It was his mother, Audree, who insisted that if Brian start a band he should also invite Dennis to be part of it. Brian took some persuading: Dennis had not practiced playing instruments for countless hours (as Brian & Carl had done), nor did he make any attempt to sing (despite the fact he had a more than just pleasant voice). He did, on occasions, contribute to family sing-a-longs, mainly by standing outside the door making silly noises to make the others laugh! Dennis was always the family rebel! He was never to change - always a thrill-seeker, wherever it may lead!
Dennis did learn to play the drums and how to keep a good beat. Recordings prove this adequately. He could even sing while playing, like Ringo did with The Beatles, and his versions of classics such as 'Long Tall Texan' became a popular part of live shows. It also did not take long before he became a particular favourite with the girls - it was Denny they screamed loudest for every time! He even sang lead on the hit single 'Do You Wanna Dance'.
Again, though, it took until Brian's 'demise' in the wake of the cancelled SMiLE that Dennis's talents really began to be noticed. early song-writing efforts like 'Little Bird' from the 'Friends' album showed that, like Carl and Brian he, too, could contribute as a writer. later, songs like 'Forever', 'Cuddle Up' and 'Love Surround Me' confirmed that Dennis had always had that spark of genius within himself - and it was merely locked away by feelings of inadequacy caused by his father's bullying and others' derision.
However, the self-destructive nature Dennis had developed never left him far from trouble. He had trouble with women, trouble with drink and drugs and trouble via the company he kept. It was Dennis who became friends with Charles Manson, becoming strongly involved with the infamous 'Manson Family', even inviting Manson to record demos with the Beach Boys. (A song actually co-written with Charles Manson 'Never Learn Not To Love' appears on the LP '20/20'.)
Dennis continued to fight drink and drug addiction through the 1970's, particularly after Brian's 'return' in 1976, often going on stage drunk or high (or both!). By the 1980's things were even worse - at least one biography details how Brian and Dennis's cocaine habit grew to such devastating proportions that they were both threatened with dismissal from The Beach Boys.
Dennis did make several serious attempts to rehabilitate but those psychological problems given to him from childhood days made successful rehab a target beyond Dennis's reach. Toll was taken on his marriages, his health (inevitably) and, most noticeably to the public, his voice. That once pleasant voice deteriorated to a husky croak. In the successful tours of the early 1970's Dennis had shared a lot of the vocal leads with Carl and Mike. By Denny's first solo album 'Pacific Ocean Blue' it was still a great voice to listen to but cracks were opening; a 2nd solo album, Bamboo, was never finished; by the July 4th concert in 1983 his attempts to force what was left of his voice through 'You Are So Beautiful' as captured forever on the film documentary 'An American Band' were touching, tear-jerking and utterly horrific all in one.
Dennis remained a Beach Boy until his death from drowning three days after Christmas 1983. He dived into the marina where his boat had previously been docked to retrieve personal items that had been thrown overboard. It is believed he came up underneath a boardwalk, was knocked unconscious and drowned. Many believe that was the day The Beach Boys died...in the light of what they have produced as a band since it is hard to, ultimately, disagree.
Dennis married four times, to Carole, Barbara, Karen and Shawn.
Much more information about Dennis can be obtained from fan-site Carry Me Home.
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