The Tragic Reason You Don't Hear From The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson Anymore

The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson has been hailed as a musical genius for more than 60 years. The original driving force behind the California surf rock band since its formation back in 1961, his renown as a songwriter grew through the band's early hits, especially with the release of 1966's "Pet Sounds," one of the most enduring records of the era which has influenced countless artists in the years since its release. Indeed, the record established The Beach Boys as America's answer to the Beatles, who were also in the ascendency at the time, and the two bands enjoyed a friendly rivalry as well as a competitive friendship between Wilson and Paul McCartney.

But Wilson's career has also been characterized by numerous tragedies, not least the mental illness that saw him step away from The Beach Boys just as they were hitting their peak. His illness would keep him out of the limelight for many years afterward, though he has periodically returned to the stage with his iconic band and made headlines with the release of musical projects that were once considered long-abandoned and unrecoverable. Sadly, a recent dementia diagnosis suggests that Wilson's career is now all but over, though he has reportedly been involved in one last Beach Boys project that many fans won't be expecting.

Brian Wilson's on-off music career

Despite being one of popular music's most celebrated artists, Brian Wilson has frequently spent long periods away from the music industry. He suffered a mental health crisis exacerbated by his drug use, shortly after the release of 1966's "Pet Sounds," after which he ceded the majority of the creative control of the Beach Boys to his bandmates. From thereon, he only contributed to the group sporadically as a songwriter and largely retreated from the public eye.

Wilson only kick-started his solo career with a debut solo album in 1988, which helped to reinvigorate him as a creative force over the decades that followed. And has been surprisingly prolific in the 21st century. Among reunions with the surviving members of the band that made his name, he also released arguably his most crucial piece of solo work, "Brian Wilson Presents Smile," in 2004, a new recording of material meant for The Beach Boys' abandoned 1967 album "Smile," which was a critical and commercial smash even as it reportedly irritated his former bandmates who suggested that it infringed on their intellectual property rights.

Declining health

Brian Wilson's later career is notable for the formerly reclusive performer's embrace of live performance. The "Smile" project, for example, began with live debuts of the material from the abandoned Beach Boys album, while the success of "Brian Wilson Presents Smile" led to an enormous world tour and a Grammy Award. In the run-up to the release of his memoir in 2016, the oft-touring musician told Rolling Stone: "If I retired I wouldn't know what to do with my time. What would I do? Sit there and go, 'Oh, I don't want to be 74'? I'd rather get on the road and do concerts and take airplane flights."

However, the newly invigorated performer was stopped in his tracks in 2019, when he was twice forced to undergo back surgery which severely impacted his ability to walk. The impact on his mental health was evident in a profile in The LA Times, which showed Wilson monosyllabic in his response to questions. Rolling Stone later reported that Wilson had postponed touring due to feeling "mentally insecure" and unable to control his thoughts and speech. He had long been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Though he later returned to touring he was forced to stop once again the following year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though he continued to release new recordings during this period.

Brian Wilson's dementia diagnosis

Hints that something was serious wrong with Brian Wilson's health came in 2022, when reports emerged that the Beach Boys star had struggled through a joint performance with the band Chicago, in which he sang little and had to use a walker to enter and exit the stage (per The Oakland Press). He later canceled his remaining tour dates on health grounds, although the exact nature of his illness was not yet shared with the public (per Now Decatur). 

Speaking on the BeachBoys Talk podcast, Wilson's daughter Carnie, who is also a musician, admitted in 2023 that it was unlikely her father would ever tour again, but shared her belief that his continuing to perform helped keep him alive in recent years (YouTube). In February 2024, outlets including The Guardian reported that the Beach Boys songwriter had been diagnosed with dementia and that his family had taken steps to ensure he was receiving adequate care for the condition.

His family has filed for a conservatorship

The sad announcement of Brian Wilson's dementia diagnosis came just weeks after the death of his wife, Melinda (pictured). A statement from Wilson posted on his website and social media channels stated: "My heart is broken. Melinda, my beloved wife of 28 years, passed away this morning. Our five children and I are just in tears. We are lost. Melinda was more than my wife. She was my savior. She gave me the emotional security I needed to have a career. She encouraged me to make the music that was closest to my heart. She was my anchor. She was everything for us. Please say a prayer for her."

Melinda was also Wilson's conservator, with legal power to manage Wilson's affairs as a result of his longstanding mental health issues, having wrested the conservatorship from Wilson's previous conservator, the psychologist Eugene Landy via a 1992 court case.

With Wilson more isolated and vulnerable than ever before, in February 2024 his family announced via the Brian Wilson website that, with the songwriter's permission, they had filed for a new conservatorship which would allow his business manager LeeAnn Hard and Wilson's manager and publicist Jean Sievers to take over the responsibility of providing care for Wilson at home, at a time when he has been deemed unable to supply consent for medical support. 

But there is still more music to come

The recent developments concerning Brian Wilson's personal life including the loss of his beloved wife Melinda and the decline of his physical and mental health in recent months have undoubtedly been heartbreaking for his family, friends, and millions of fans around the world. However, though Wilson's touring days are sadly over and fans will no longer have the chance to hear classics like "California Girls" and "God Only Knows" performed by their songwriter in a live venue, there is still one Brian Wilson project on the horizon to look forward to.

In February 2024, the same month that the Wilson family announced it was filing for a change in conservatorship, Rolling Stone announced that a newly recovered album of lost material was in the works and set for release in 2025. "Cows in the Pasture" is an experiment in writing country music that Wilson began recording with The Beach Boys' former manager Fred Vail way back in 1970, but which had recently been resurrected with the involvement of younger musicians — and Wilson himself, who serves as executive producer — in preparation for a commercial release. Considered a Fred Vail solo album which has long been the stuff of Beach Boys legend, it is hoped the record will be as much of a success as "Brian Wilson Presents Smile" was more than 20 years ago.