How Charles Manson Ruined Dennis Wilson's Life


Beach Boy Dennis Wilson in 1971. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the late 1960s, it was probably not a good idea to hang around with Charles Manson. Dennis Wilson didn't know that -- but nobody did, at least, not the way we know today. Dennis Wilson, brother of Brian Wilson, was a co-founder of The Beach Boys; Charles Manson, on the other hand, is perhaps the most famous (certainly the most infamous) cult leader in American history. On his orders, Manson's followers -- the "Manson Family" as they were known -- carried out the Tate-Labianca murders in 1969, leaving seven people dead, including actress Sharon Tate. The group's goal was to realize Manson's apocalyptic vision of a massive race war, a scenario he described as "Helter Skelter."

We're aware of all this today, but back in the spring of 1968, when Dennis Wilson let the Manson Family into his life and his home, the group's darkest deeds were still a year off. While living with Dennis Wilson, Charles Manson and his swarm of STD-infested scavengers relentlessly took advantage of Wilson’s kindness. They destroyed his home, his cars, and his credit. Wilson, who died in 1983 after a long struggle with addiction, never recovered from his time spent living with the family, and blamed himself for the deaths that occurred after the Manson Family moved from his home in the Palisades to the emptiness of Spahn Ranch. 

Dennis Wilson may never have met Charles Manson if he hadn’t been so prone to picking up hitchhikers, especially young female hitchhikers. In the spring of 1968 Wilson saw Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey thumbing it on the side of the road and brought them home for milk and cookies. This act of kindness turned his life upside down.

The girls returned to Wilson’s rented home in the Pacific Palisades, and when he left to record tracks with the Beach Boys they never left. When he returned he found a party in full swing, and a bearded, dirty stranger waiting for him in his driveway. The man was Charles Manson, and in order to make Wilson feel comfortable he supposedly got on his knees and kissed the drummer’s feet. Wilson spent the rest of ’68 partying with the freeloading Manson family.