Melinda Wilson, whose love story with husband Brian Wilson was portrayed in the biopic “Love and Mercy,” and who is widely credited with helping bring the Beach Boys’ founder back from psychological ruin, died Tuesday morning at age 77. No cause of death was immediately given.
The death was announced on Brian Wilson’s Instagram page, where the 81-year-old singer-songwriter wrote, “My heart is broken. Melinda, my beloved wife of 28 years, passed away this morning. 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.” He closed the statement with his trademark sign-off: “Love and Mercy, Brian.”
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The couple married in 1995. They had met nine years earlier, when Melinda Ledbetter sold Wilson a Cadillac — an encounter captured, along with much more of their love story, in “Love and Mercy,” in which Elizabeth Banks played Melinda, opposite John Cusack playing the Beach Boys star in middle age. The film dramatized how she helped him deal with mental illness and provided a path to health away from Eugene Landy, the infamous therapist seen as exerting undue control in Wilson’s life.
The couple adopted five children: Daria Rose, Delanie Rae, Dylan, Dash, and Dakota Ros. The children joined in on Tuesday with an additional statement on Wilson’s social media, writing: “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. She was a force of nature and one of the strongest women you could come by. 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. Give Grandma Rose and Pa our love.”
Other music stars sent their support, including Graham Nash, who wrote in the social post’s comments, “I’m deeply sorry for your loss, Brian, and for the terrible hurt you are all feeling. My heart, love, and prayers are with you and your family.” Others adding their love on the page included Alec Baldwin — who simply wrote “So sorry” — Stephen Bishop and Lyle Lovett.
In 2015, when “Love and Mercy” came out in theaters, the Wilsons did interviews to promote the film. ““I didn’t know how tough (watching) it would be,” Melinda told ABC’s “Nightline.” “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.’”
But there were parts of the film that weren’t painful to relive. “I like when me and Melinda first met,” he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, describing his favorite scene in the movie. Elaborating with ABC, he said, “I remember meeting her at her dealership, Cadillac, and I said, ‘God, she’s a pretty girl. That’s a pretty girl.’ I just said to myself, ‘God, I think I’ll see her again sometime.’”
Wilson was previously married to singer Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford, of the group the Honeys, from 1964 until their divorce in 1978. That couple had two children together, Carnie and Wendy Wilson.
In her interview with the Times at the time of the biopic’s release, Melinda said of Brian, “He doesn’t wallow in the mire if it’s negative. He just gets over it — like he does with his music. It’s not negative, he’s just not negative… It’s like when he wanted to set our wedding date on Marilyn’s birthday so he wouldn’t forget that day. Some people would look at that as negative; for me, I thought it was funny.”
Melinda Ledbetter was born in Pueblo, Colorado in 1946 and raised in Whittier, Calif. She was a model before becoming a salesperson for the L.A. Cadillac dealership where she met her husband.
In their initial courtship, the effect Landy was having on her future husband was overpowering, Melinda said in interviews. “
“It was so obvious he was being drugged,” she told the New York Post in 2015. “We’d get in my car to go somewhere and the first thing that would happen is that Brian would fall asleep in my lap… Most of the time, Landy was giving him downers to keep him out of his hair. Around 1988, when Brian’s solo album came out, Brian had a lot of things to do. So Landy would give him uppers… There was a total parallel between Murry (Brian’s father) and Landy. Because Brian came from such dysfunction, it was hard for him to recognize how dysfunctional the situation with Landy was.”
In 1989, Landy forbade the couple from seeing one another. But it was the therapist who finally ended up on the outs, when a lawsuit contesting his conservatorship resulted in Landy being constrained from contacting Wilson again in 1992. It was then that he and Ledbetter reunited, marrying three years later.
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