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Eugene Landy, 71; Psychologist Criticized for Relationship With Troubled Beach Boy Brian Wilson

Obituaries

March 29, 2006|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Eugene Landy, the psychologist who was denounced as a Svengali for his controversial relationship with Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson, has died. He was 71.

Landy died March 22 in Honolulu of respiratory complications of lung cancer, said William Flaxman, a longtime colleague.

A pioneer of what he called "24-hour therapy," Landy was known for a show-business clientele that at one time included rocker Alice Cooper and actors Richard Harris and Rod Steiger.

He earned notoriety in the late 1970s after he began treating Wilson, the songwriting genius behind the iconic California band, whose career had disintegrated in a haze of drugs and phobias after a decade at the top of the musical charts.

Hired in 1975 by Wilson's wife, Landy took control of the rock star's life, monitoring him 24 hours a day with a team of assistants to keep him off drugs and junk food; Wilson's weight by then had ballooned to more than 300 pounds.

Landy grew so close to Wilson that he participated in Wilson's comeback as his manager and artistic collaborator -- an ethical breach that eventually caused the psychologist to give up his license to practice in California.

Born in Pittsburgh, Landy was the only child of Jules, a physician, and Frieda, a psychology professor. He claimed to have dropped out of school after the sixth grade because of severe dyslexia and worked odd jobs, eventually winding up in radio as producer of a program aimed at teenagers. He later became a record promoter.

He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s and shifted career goals. He studied chemistry at Los Angeles City College before earning a bachelor's degree in psychology at Cal State L.A. in 1964. By 1968 he had a master's degree and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Oklahoma.

He did postdoctoral work in marathon group therapy in Rancho Santa Fe with the movement's co-founder, psychologist Frederick Stoller. Stoller's brand of group psychotherapy lasting a day or more inspired Landy's "24-hour therapy," developed at Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center in Echo Park, where he ran a program for teenage drug abusers.

By the time he met Wilson, he had a Beverly Hills clinic and a celebrity clientele. Dr. Solon D. Samuels, a former director of Gateways, told The Times in 1988 that Landy was a maverick who did "things that no other psychologist has done in treating the psychotic and the drug addict."

Wilson seemed to fit the clinical profile to a distressing degree. He rarely got out of bed or talked to anyone. He went weeks without brushing his teeth or taking a shower, believing that "blood would gush out of the sink faucet and snakes would spring out of the shower head," he wrote in his 1991 memoir "Wouldn't It Be Nice."

His mind was so wasted on drugs -- including cocaine, LSD and heroin -- that he even tried to give them to his two young daughters.

Landy insisted that he have total control of Wilson and his environment. He also was adamant that Wilson had to request treatment himself. According to Wilson's autobiography, the musician caved in after a two-month campaign -- orchestrated by Landy -- in which his then-wife, Marilyn, and eventually many of his close friends, pretended to be in therapy with the psychologist and told Wilson how much they enjoyed it.

His first session with Landy took place in Wilson's bedroom closet, the only place Wilson said he felt safe. Landy gradually gained his trust and helped him regain enough physical and mental health that the pop idol performed at the Beach Boys' 15th anniversary concert Dec. 31, 1976.

Landy, however, had been fired earlier that month by Beach Boys manager Steve Love, largely in a dispute over fees.

He was rehired six years later, after Wilson had regressed again into drugs and obesity. The 24-hour therapy was resumed from 1983 to 1986. During that time, Landy said, he was paid $35,000 a month.

In 1987, Landy entered a business and creative partnership with Wilson called Brains and Genius to share profits from such ventures as recordings, films, soundtracks and books.

In 1988, Wilson released his first solo album, called simply "Brian Wilson." Its success was tinged by controversy over Landy, however, who that year became the subject of an investigation by the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance.

The state board accused Landy of "grossly negligent conduct," including the sexual abuse of a female patient. Most of the accusations concerned his relationship with Wilson, alleging that his multiple business entanglements had caused the singer "severe emotional damage, psychological dependence and financial exploitation."

Landy was listed as executive producer of Wilson's solo album and was credited as a co-writer of several tracks.

One of the sources in the state's investigation was songwriter Gary Usher, who worked with Landy and Wilson for 10 months on the album and described Wilson as a virtual captive, manipulated by a man who frightened and intimidated him.

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