Melinda Ledbetter Wilson, the longtime wife of Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson, who helped guide his personal and career resurgence and was played by Elizabeth Banks in the 2014 biopic Love & Mercy, died Tuesday. She was 77. Her husband revealed the news in a touching social media post.
“My heart is broken,” Wilson wrote. “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.” He added in a subsequent post: “She was my anchor.
She was everything for us.” Born on October 3, 1946, in Pueblo, CO, Ledbetter Wilson had a long career in modeling and met Wilson in the mid-1980s while working at a car dealership. They began dating, but she was dismayed by what she perceived as the control that Eugene Landy — the psychologist whose controversial therapy methods and meds seized the rock legend for years — had over Wilson. She reported Landy to California authorities for ethics violations, but the couple split after a while.
They reconnected after a chance meeting and would marry in February 1995. In the interim, the state had barred Landy from any further contact with Wilson, who had struggled with mental illness since the mid-1960s.
Love & Mercy, named for the title track of Wilson’s 1988 solo album, starred John Cusack and Paul Dano as older and younger Wilson, respectively, and Banks as Ledbetter Wilson. Directed by Bill Pholad, it told stories set in the 1960s and ’80s, debuted to acclaim at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, and hit theaters in June 2015 via Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. Dano earned a Golden Globe nom for his performance.
Banks and Ledbetter Wilson appeared together at Deadline’s The Contenders event in 2015, and the latter said it all happened just as the film shows. Watch a video clip from that panel here: Ledbetter Wilson drove her husband to reclaim his career and legacy during their time together. Wilson made a dozen of them after not releasing an album since 1988 from 1995 to 2021.
Among them was 2004’s Brian Wilson Presents Smile, which was the finished product of the legendary Pet Sounds follow-up Smile that he couldn’t finish in the ’60s.
Along the way, Wilson began performing live more regularly, including two 2000s tours on which he and his backing group, The Wondermints, played the cherished 1966 album Pet Sounds in its entirety.
Wilson wrote, produced, sang, and played on more than a dozen Top 10 singles for the Beach Boys, including the No. 1 hits “I Get Around,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” and the seminal “Good Vibrations.” He would reconnect with his surviving Beach Boys bandmates for an album and 50th anniversary tour. The group also performed at and was honored by the Grammy Awards 2012.
Ledbetter Wilson has producer credits on three of her husband’s projects: Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (2021), Pet Sounds Live at Royce Hall (2006), and the long-form video Brian Wilson Presents Smile (2005). She also was a guest on TV shows, including The View, Good Morning America, and Entertainment Tonight.
Along with Wilson, she is survived by their five adopted children.