Brian Wilson, the legendary founding member of The Beach Boys, is in mourning after a devastating loss: his wife of 28 years, Melinda Kae Ledbetter, has died at the age of 77.
Wilson, 81, announced the heartbreaking news on social media. “My heart is broken,” the revered musician wrote.
“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.”
Melinda truly was his savior: she is widely credited with saving Brian Wilson, who for decades struggled with mental health problems including schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder, including at the height of his fame and acclaim with The Beach Boys.
By the 1980s, Wilson was largely under the control of his controversial psychotherapist, Eugene Landy, who prescribed treatments for Wilson’s mental health but also exerted a lot of influence over his career and business, including taking portions of his songwriting royalties. He later became Wilson’s legal guardian.
It was Melinda who broke him from this unhealthy bond and likely saved his life. The couple met in 1986 when Melinda, then a Cadillac saleswoman, sold Brian a car. They dated for three years, but Landy “decided we were getting too close,” Melinda later told the Washington Post, and broke up their relationship.
But Melinda helped break the spell that Landy had on him, including discovering a will that said in the event of Wilson’s death, most of his fortune would go to Landry. “It seemed to me that Brian was worth more to Landy dead than alive,” Melinda later recalled, according to the New York Post.
Brian and Melinda reunited in 1992, and the Wilson family issued a restraining order against Landy forbidding him from contacting Brian. Melinda became Brian’s new manager as well as his wife, providing stability and better mental health and allowing Brian to make a late-career musical comeback.
While Brian says Melinda saved him, she says he also saved himself.
“A person in Brian’s situation has to want to save themselves,” she told the Washington Post. “I was in the right place at the right time to help him. It’s like the concept that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t get him to drink… What he’s missed out on is an environment where he feels safe. He didn’t have that before with his family, his old band, his doctor, his first wife. But he finally has that.”
Their love story is depicted in the 2014 film Love & Mercy, starring John Cusack as Brian and Elizabeth Banks as Melinda. Dr. Landy is played by Paul Giamatti.
Brian and Melinda adopted five kids together. Their children also released a statement after Melinda’s passing.
“It is with a heavy heart that we let everyone know that our mom, Melinda Kay Ledbetter Wilson passed away peacefully this morning at home,” their statement reads. “She was a force of nature and one of the strongest women you could come by. She was not only a model, our fathers 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.”
A cause of death was not released. Brian and Melinda were married for 28 years.
Brian Wilson, widely regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of the rock era and acclaimed for iconic Beach Boys albums like Pet Sounds, continued to tour until 2022, when “unforeseen health reasons” caused a cancelation of concert dates and a likely retirement from touring.
The Beach Boys, led by Mike Love, continue to tour without Wilson’s involvement, though he rejoined the band for a 50th anniversary tour and new album in 2012.
Rest in peace to Melinda Ledbetter, the beloved wife of Brian Wilson who saved his life and got him back on his feet after decades of struggle.
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