NEW YORK — Melinda Ledbetter Wilson, the longtime wife and manager of Brian Wilson whom the Beach Boys co-founder often credited for stabilizing his famously troubled life, has died at age 77.
Wilson died Tuesday at the couple’s home in Beverly Hills, California, Brian Wilson announced online. Brian Wilson’s spokesperson Lauren Mele said Wednesday that she passed away “suddenly,” but no other details were available.
“Our five children and I are just in tears. We are lost,” Brian Wilson wrote on his web site. “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.”
In “Love and Mercy,” the 2014 film about Wilson that drew in part on Melinda Wilson’s memories, she is played by Elizabeth Banks.
Melinda Ledbetter was a Pueblo, Colorado, native who grew up in Whittier, California, and had worked for years as a model before taking a job as a sales representative at a Cadillac dealership in Los Angeles. One day, in the mid-1980s, Brian Wilson turned up, looking to buy a car. As he recalled in his memoir from 2016, “I Am Brian Wilson,” he was immediately attracted to Ledbetter and impressed that she didn’t treat him like a celebrity.
“Melinda looked straight at me when I was introducing myself, stayed calm, didn’t do one thing or the other, and that made me feel normal,” he wrote.
One of the world’s most revered musicians, Wilson struggled with mental health and substance abuse issues that upended his career in the 1960s and left him dependent on others. At the time he met Ledbetter, Wilson was under the close supervision of psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy, whom Ledbetter and others believed was exploiting and mistreating him. She and Landy feuded for years before Landy was barred in 1992 from any contact with Wilson.
Four years later, she and Wilson married. (Brian Wilson was previously married to Marilyn Rovell, with whom he had daughters Carnie and Wendy, part of the million-selling vocal group Wilson Phillips).
Melinda Wilson was cited by her husband and others for getting him proper medical treatment, and encouraging her husband to complete his intended masterpiece from the ’60s, “Smile.” In a 2007 interview with The Washington Post, she said she was able to help Wilson because he was ready to help himself.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” she said. “It’s like the concept that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t get him to drink.”