Dr. Eugene Landy, 1934-2006

Posted in Rock Und Roll at 9:34 pm by

Psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy, best known for his tenure as Brian Wilson’s round-the-clock therapist (and slightly less celebrated for his role as George Benson’s onetime manager), passed away last week in Hawaii. The following obituary is from the Indepedent’s Peter Ames Carlin.

At first, Landy earned credit for weaning Brian Wilson off the drugs, alcohol and junk-food binges that had swollen his body and dampened his creativity. But by the late 1980s, after Landy eased into the role of his patient’s co-writer, co-producer and financial manager, the psychologist became the target of lawsuits and a government investigation.

In the early 1990s Landy surrendered his psychologist’s licence and was barred from contacting Wilson. The episode proved so explosive that, even 15 years later, the central figures in the drama – Landy, Wilson, the minders hired to enforce the psychologist’s rules, musicians and collaborators – usually refused to speak about it on the record. “I can’t say anything, because you just don’t know what Landy’s going to do,” one former employee said to me last year while fending off an interview request for my Wilson biography, ‘Catch a Wave: the rise, fall and redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson’.

Working with drug addicts helped Landy design a therapeutic system he called “milieu therapy”, during which the doctor and his assistants would control every aspect of a patient’s life. The programme proved especially popular among Hollywood’s élite class of dissolutes – Landy later claimed patients ranging from the shock rock star Alice Cooper to the actor Rod Steiger. And when Brian Wilson’s first wife, Marilyn, sought help for her famous husband in late 1975, Landy was the first, and only, psychologist she called.

What Landy found, tucked into the shadows of Wilson’s mansion, was an overweight, unwashed 33-year-old musician (above) whose once-flawless ear for creating dazzlingly innovative pop music had been dulled by years of depression, drugs and alcohol. Given free reign to restore his patient’s mental health, Landy threw water on Wilson to get him out of bed in the morning. He enforced rigid exercise and diet regimes, then led him to the piano to write new songs. Within weeks, Landy had Wilson back in the recording studio. Six months later, the trimmed-down Wilson made a dramatic return to the stage, just as the Beach Boys’ new album, 15 Big Ones – the first to be produced by Wilson in a decade – soared up the sales charts.

You couldn’t argue with the results. But Landy’s skyrocketing bills infuriated the Beach Boys’ managers, who fired him in November 1976. By the early 1980s Wilson was in even worse shape than he had been in 1975. Contacted by the Beach Boys management, Landy agreed to take on his old patient with one condition: this time he would have complete control over Wilson’s life, with no exceptions.

Once again, Wilson got free of drugs, lost weight and got back to work. By 1985 he looked healthier and happier than he’d been in two decades. But friends and colleagues noticed troubling things, too. The bodyguards surrounding Wilson – nicknamed “the surf nazis” by his friends – had become a constant, sinister presence. Old friends and even family members said they had been barred from contacting him. And Landy had also added his name to his patient’s creative and personal affairs.

The California Board of Medical Quality Assurance filed an official case against Landy, accusing him of “grossly negligent conduct” in his treatment of Wilson and other patients. In 1989 Landy agreed to surrender his licence, but his work with Wilson continued. The duo set up a corporation, Brains & Genius, and worked together on a new album, titled Sweet Insanity. The album was never released. In 1991 a court ordered Landy to stay away from Wilson.

7 responses to “Dr. Eugene Landy, 1934-2006”

  1. M. Coombe says:

    It is interesting to see this all mapped out. I am also a former employee of Dr. Landy aka the Brains in Brains and Genius. I was there for 2 months in 1988 and it was 2 months too long. Dr. Landy was a real piece of work. When you worked there you had to sign a legal agreement stating you wouldn’t talk about what went on. So that’s why people were scared to speak up. It was all very sad.

  2. T. Botelho says:

    Something made me look up Dr. Landy and see what I would find. Reading the article was very interesting, and said information that I did not know. But it also gave me the thought of “right on, he’s not perfect too”. I have been a patient of his from Nov. 2001 – until his death. That man helped me to live again and realize that I am going to be okay in this crazy world. I have been clean and sober for 4 1/2 years, and I know I couldn’t do it without him. Yeah he was definitely a character, and use to crack me up all the time with his ways. But I am forever grateful for the life he helped me to find. He showed me that I could love and be loved, and he was right. I have been married for 3 1/2 years to a beautiful, loving and caring man. I will miss Dr. Landy immensely. Because of the gratitude I have for him I got a tattoo that reminds me of him. So I say and will always say, YOU ROCK Dr. LANDY, keep testing the waters and never stop being you. Love you always, Tracy

  3. James Linderson says:

    I met him in 1981. He used to travel to various countries while on vacation.

    He was a psychiatrist until July 1 1988 when he was forced to leave the profession due to bad conduct and bad medical ethics with paitents.

    He practiced psychiatry in secret until his licence was revoked.

    He resigned as a mental health nurse in 1986. (August 13)

    I met him again in 1987, 1988, 1991 and 1995.

    He was a chronic smoker of tobacco.

    Richard Wickham is like this doctor in New Zealand. He was struck off four times as a psychiatrist twice as a psychologist and three times as a mental health nurse.

    Doctors need to be accountable and nice to their clientell.

    They need to respect themselves and their clients and to be responsible and honest.

    I am an anonnymous emailer.

  4. Camille Komine says:

    Aloha Dr. Landy… It’s been a year since you left. I’m sorry you are still so maligned and misunderstood. You were the MOST effective therapist I’ve ever had. Your understanding of artists was remarkable! The controversy that still surrounds your methods astounds me. Your critics are mostly by those that didn’t know you. I was privaledged to be a patient of yours.
    Thank You, I Love You, Camille

  5. Squiggy says:

    M. Coombe – EuGENe Landy was the GENius behind Brains & Genius. Brian Wilson was the BRAINS. Interesting that you would have worked for Dr. Landy and not know this.

  6. Pat says:

    This is a strange one to reconcile. I never met Dr. Landy. I do know, that given enough time and enough rope to hang himself, without Dr. Landy, Brian (like Dennis) would be dead. It’s Dr Landy, along with his heavy baggage of questionable practices, etc, that saved Brian. It’s a near certainty today that Brian would be dead without Landy. Probably would have lasted to the mid-80’s. That means no 50th anniversary Tour, no “Thats Why God Made the Radio”, no more “Smile Sessions”, etc. probably nothing beyond the mid 80’s. Just sayin……

  7. David says:

    Brian Wilson might well have been dead had it not been for Landy’s unique treatment of his patient. It seems as though Brian needed, perhaps still needs “instruction” in certain areas of his life but I hardly feel that is anything unique to Brian Wilson. I believe many people have similar characteristics although they have the good fortune of maintaining some form of privacy. Being a “Beach Boy” and the creative force behind the band for so many years, it would have been very difficult for Brian to remain out of the light for any length of time, whether or not he was a recluse. What does concern one though is the almost undying “devotion” some patients seemingly continue to feel for Eugene Landy. His method of treatment was – at least in my eyes – completely strange and I would have to go as far as to say, damaging. I’m all for one being treated for addictions but being barred from interacting with family members, having bodyguards treating you like a child and deciding whether or not you deserve a hamburger for being “good” is not promoting healthy habits, and is certainly not a secure path to complete reintegration into society as a fully functioning and wholly creative person. Not to mention the liberties Landy took by making himself co-writer, co-producer and “financial manager” for mister Wilson. I am sorry, but that is not an ethical doctor-patient relationship. I for one have certainly not been even remotely tempted to “mark” my body in gratitude for a doctor’s services, and the fact that former employees of this said doctor refrained from comment because they weren’t sure of what Landy would do is very disturbing. Throwing water onto a patient to get them up in the morning is a despicable thing for a doctor to do. Was this done in jest, I wonder? You know what, it’s still despicable. Yes, thank you Eugene Landy for “saving” Brian’s life but one must also take into account that the choice to die or survive in a situation like mister Wilson’s – and anyone else for that matter – ultimately lay within Brian himself.

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