Melinda Wilson, wife of Beach Boys‘ Brian Wilson, mother of his five youngest children, and the key architect of his comeback, died Tuesday of unknown causes. She was 77.
“My heart is broken,” Brian Wilson wrote in a statement. “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 Wilson met Brian Wilson in 1986 while working at a Cadillac dealership in Los Angeles. At the time, Brian was largely estranged from his family and bandmates. Psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy controlled nearly every aspect of his life. “He was called into help and I think originally he did help,” Melinda told Larry King in 2004. “He helped Brian lose weight. He helped Brian care about himself physically again. As time went on, he became very captive of Brian. Brian was primarily a prisoner.”
With significant help from Melinda, Brian was eventually able to legally severe all ties with Landy and begin a life with her. They married in 1995 and adopted five children. Shortly after the wedding, Brian started recording music again and touring under his own name. She was by his side for all of it.
“He came from an incredibly dysfunctional family,” Melinda Wilson told The Chicago Tribune in 1998. “His father was abusive, his father was abused. And Brian should have been an abuser too. Instead, Brian just withdrew. He was never involved with his kids. Now, although music is still extremely important to him, he’s learned that there’s love, family. I just wonder what the music would have been like if he had this sooner, what he could have done if he had a supportive, loving family around him all along.”
Melinda Kae Ledbetter grew up in Whittier, California. She was a commercial model for 16 years before she started working as a Cadillac dealer. “I knew of the Beach Boys,” she told Larry King. “But I didn’t know Brian was the genius behind the Beach Boys growing up in California. I always thought Dennis was cute, his brother.”
In 2014, Elizabeth Banks portrayed Melinda in the biopic Love and Mercy. “I didn’t know how tough it would be [to watch it]” Melinda Wilson told ABC. “I think I was more nervous than him when I took him to see it, and after, I said, ‘So what did you think?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, it was really a lot worse in real life.’”
The five children of Brian and Melinda also released a public statement when news of her death hit: “She was not only a model, our father’s savior, and a mother, she was a woman empowered by her spirit with a mission to better everyone she touched. We will miss her but cherish everything she has taught us. How to take care of the person next to you with out expecting anything in return, how to find beauty in the darkest of places, and how to live life as your truest self with honesty and pride. We love you, mom.”