Tragic Details Found In Dennis Wilson's Autopsy Report

Bands hailing from the United States and Great Britain dominated music in the 1960s. The Beatles practically took over the United States when they arrived in 1964, setting off Beatlemania and changing the musical landscape for good. As far as American bands of the same period, the one most on par with The Beatles in terms of the way they pushed the boundaries, especially in the studio, was The Beach Boys.

The band was made up of brothers Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. Together they were responsible for iconic singles like "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Good Vibrations," as well as their legendary 1966 album "Pet Sounds" (via Britannica).

The band wasn't without their turmoil and tragedy. Brian Wilson, the band's principal songwriter, has had a long battle with mental health issues. The Wilsons have also alleged that their father, Murray Wilson, was abusive, with Brian saying that their father used to terrify his sons by removing his glass eye and forcing them to stare into the empty socket (via Daily Mail). Another tragedy that befell the group was the 1983 drowning death of founding drummer Dennis.

Dennis Wilson's death

Despite being the drummer for one of the most successful bands of all time, Wilson had run into hard times in the early 1980s. By 1983, he was reportedly homeless and had been in and out of hospitals, per Express. Somewhat ironically, given his homelessness later in life, Wilson previously had a reputation for letting people — just about anyone — stay at his house. This included Charles Manson and his followers, who stayed with Wilson in the late '60s. Wilson actually left his own house when Manson and company's ways became too much for him (via Rolling Stone).

On December 28, 1983, Wilson was found dead in about 12 feet of water near Marina Del Rey, part of Los Angeles. According to The New York Times the day after his death, Wilson had been on a boat called The Emerald with its owner and two women. They reported that Wilson had jumped into the water at around 4:25 p.m. local time.

At the time of his death, Wilson was estranged from his wife — Shawn Love Wilson, the 19-year-old daughter of his cousin and bandmate Mike Love. Years earlier she had thrown some of his personal effects off of his boat and into the water in the same area. According to his autopsy, Wilson was trying to retrieve these items when he drowned (via Autopsy Files). He was just 39 years old.

Wilson disappeared while diving

Wilson was by all accounts comfortable in water; according to Rolling Stone, he was the only Beach Boy who could actually surf. The day of his death, he reportedly made several dives before he drowned, with the autopsy report mentioning that he had been successful in finding some of the items he was searching for. Wilson was wearing a face mask while he was in the water, though he wasn't using a snorkel. He popped above water following one dive and told his friend who owned The Emerald that he had spotted a large box on the ocean floor and that he needed a rope to bring it to the surface. His friend obliged and Wilson disappeared to retrieve the box (via Autopsy Files).

After some time, Wilson hadn't surfaced. His friends were concerned but thought that he may have simply resurfaced elsewhere. They looked for him for around 15 minutes, but when they had no luck they called the authorities. Harbor Patrol went about combing through the water for the drummer, and within 30 minutes they discovered Wilson's lifeless body and brought it to the surface at approximately 5:15 p.m.

Description of Dennis Wilson's body

The autopsy report lists Wilson as an "unembalmed, Caucasian male measuring 72 inches in length and weighing 168 pounds." It also described his hair as light brown with some gray and that he was unshaven at the time, with stubble measuring approximately an eighth of an inch.

Wilson was swimming at the time of his death, so it should come as no surprise that the only clothing he was wearing at the time was a pair of cut-off jean shorts. The only thing kind of unusual is that it was late December when Wilson died, and according to the autopsy he was swimming in somewhat cold water, which around the time of his death was found to be just 58 degrees (via Autopsy Files).

The autopsy report mentions that Wilson had clear injuries to the face when he was pulled out of the water, and while it would seem like a natural conclusion to assume that these were sustained while he was underwater, the days leading up to his death indicate that this was not the case.

Wilson's facial injuries

On Christmas Day, 1983, Wilson had attempted to meet with his estranged wife at a nearby hotel, the Santa Monica Bay Inn (via Rolling Stone). Wilson had recently left a hospital where he'd been seeking detox treatments. However, the final sentence of the "Circumstances" section of the autopsy states, "The Sheriff's investigator gave the impression that there was fairly heavy alcohol consumption in the days preceding the decedent's death." Wilson was allegedly drunk when he ran into one of his wife's male friends. Wilson wound up picking a fight with the man, who promptly beat him up. He had to seek medical attention for the injuries he sustained in the altercation. It's noted in the autopsy report that the injuries appeared to have not been capable of causing Wilson's death — damage to his chin, nose, and above his left eye, all of which are consistent with what he reportedly suffered in the fight.

Wilson had his struggles with substance abuse. According to Rolling Stone, the musician had been introduced to heroin while Charles Manson was staying at his Sunset Strip apartment. The toxicology portion of Wilson's autopsy lists several substances found in the late drummer's body at the time of his death. Wilson was found to have ethanol (alcohol) in his system, with a blood alcohol level of 0.26%. For reference, 0.08% is the legal limit in most of the United States (via NHTSA).

Also found in Wilson's blood were barbiturates, codeine, and morphine, among others. The report makes the case, that while not confirmed, it seems as though the substances in Wilson's system could've been a factor in his drowning.