The controversial psychotherapist Eugene Landy was best known for his relationship with the Beach Boys' troubled leader Brian Wilson. In a life that included stints as a music promoter, a radio producer, a pop culture analyst and psychologist, Landy earned his greatest notoriety during the years he served as Wilson's 24-hour-a- day therapist.
At first, Landy earned credit for weaning the musician 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, Catcha Wave: the rise, fall and redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson (due to be published in June).
Unpredictability had long been a Landy hallmark. Born in Pittsburgh in 1934, he was the son of a doctor, Jules, and a psychology professor, Frieda. Despite his family's academic background, Landy dropped out of school after sixth grade (he later claimed to be dyslexic) and worked in the fringes of showbusiness. An early supporter of the jazz guitarist George Benson, Landy served briefly as the then-struggling musician's manager. Landy served in the American Peace Corps and Vista (Volunteers in Service to America) before returning to school in the early 1960s. He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from the California State College, Los Angeles, in 1964, then a master's degree in psychology from the University of Oklahoma in 1967, capping his training with a PhD in 1968. Moving to Los Angeles, Landy set up a practice that specialised in treating drug abuse, particularly among young people. He soon parlayed his mastery of the hippie lexicon into a reference book, The Underground Dictionary, published in 1971.
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 lite 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 whose once- flawless ear for creating dazzlingly innovative pop music had been dulled by years of depression, drugs and alcohol. …