I had seen Dennis Wilson numerous time at parties and backstage at Beach Boys concerts in the 1970s. But it was some time before I really got to know him. I first met him in 1975 backstage after a concert. I met Dennis and the other Beach Boys through their brother Carl Wilson. Carl was my best friend’s neighbor. I started babysitting Carl’s two sons, Justyn and Jonah, in 1974. Within a couple of years I’d met the other Beach Boys, including Carl’s two brothers, Dennis and Brian. By 1980 I noticed that Dennis wasn't doing too well. His voice was raspy. His appearance was more disheveled and his drinking was out of control. Dennis was one of a kind - a truly sweet, loving, generous soul that would literally give you the shirt off his back. And he did exactly that. I'd been admiring his T-shirt that said "No Sweat". "Do you want it? " he asked. "Really?" I replied. He proceeded to take it off and hand it to me. I had that shirt for many years until it was destroyed in a fire. I’ll write more about this fire soon.
In the summer of 1982 I was driving through a Jack in the Box near the Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile on Fairfax Avenue. While paying for my soda and fries I looked through the drive-up window and saw Dennis standing at the cashier.
I yelled, "Dennis!" and waved. He recognized me and motioned for me to come around to the front. "Hey, small world. How ya doing? What are ya up to?" he asked.
I told him I was on my way to pick up my girlfriend Danni to go shopping. He asked if I could give him a ride back to his hotel. He jumped in my car and I drove him up to La Cienega and Sunset Boulevard to the place he was staying. I don't know why he didn't have a driver at the time. Considering his habits, he still looked good. Handsome as always, sweet and kind as always. As he was getting out of the car, he asked, "Why don't you go pick up your friend and come hangout after you're done shopping?"
I agreed. "Bring something to swim in", he said.
When I arrived at Danni's I told her what had happened. She was excited and definitely game to go visit Dennis.
Danni was a good friend of mine. She also worked in Hollywood. At the time, she was Suzanne Sommer's personal hairdresser on Three's Company, a popular TV comedy. She was married to my husband Barry's friend and fellow costumer Michael Long. Sadly, they had just separated as had Barry and I.
We arrived at Dennis’ about 3pm. The hotel wasn’t a fancy place as Dennis didn't want to draw attention. He was laying out by the pool, with a tall glass of Vodka and OJ. I introduced Danni and we spent hours talking, laughing and swimming.
Dennis seemed quite taken with her. Let's get something clear here. Dennis LOVED women, but not in an abusive way. He just loved being in relationships and loved pretty women. And Danni was certainly that.
A few hours later, we ordered a pizza and stayed by the pool until nearly 10pm.
I was starting to feel like a third wheel. I mentioned that maybe I should go home and come back later. But Dennis wouldn't have it.
"Come on just hang out with us. It's cool." he said. Danni and I were drinking wine and I had had my fill. I was never a big drinker and hated the thought of a hangover. By midnight, we were both exhausted. Dennis could've partied all night. Although difficult, we said our goodbyes. Dennis said, "Before you go, promise me you'll come back tomorrow. I'll take you out on my boat. " Of course we agreed.
Driving back to Danni's was like a dream. Had we really just spent the past 8 hours with Dennis Wilson? We were like a couple of giggling school girls, especially Danni. She had a wicked crush on him.
I decided to stay the night at Danni's. The morning came too soon. I was still tired and a bit hungover. Fortunately, we were both on hiatus from work (in between films/shows) so our schedules were pretty open. It was another hot summer day and we were thrilled at the idea of visiting Dennis on his beautiful boat, Harmony. We’d agreed to pick him up at noon. We packed a beach bag with towels and suntan lotion and zipped out to the hotel.
Dennis was waiting outside and promptly jumped in the back seat. He looked good considering the long night. He was wide eyed and bushy tailed, ready to take on the day. Since I lived in Marina del Rey at the time, I was quite familiar with the harbor and had seen Dennis's boat several times. Many celebrities had boats docked there. But The Harmony wasn't just a boat. It was a piece of exquisite art.
Built in Japan in 1950, the boat was first christened Watadori, Bird of Passage in Japanese. The name is prominently reflected in a wood carving of a bird in mid-flight under the bowsprit. Teakwood and mahogany grace many of the cabinets and other wood-works below deck. The 50-foot boat was built with material from around the world - teak from Burma, mahogany from the Philippines and camphor wood from Formosa.
The Harmony left Japan for a 5,000-mile voyage to California in 1952. She was the first boat ever to travel non-stop under a canvas sail west across the Pacific on a voyage that would last 47 days.
Dennis loved the boat. He would sail her south to Baja, west to Catalina and to Northern California. In fact, Dennis was happiest when he was either on the water or in the water. Of all his brothers, he was the REAL Beach Boy.
The Harmony lay there, docked and ready for us. I had never seen anything quite like it. Dennis was so proud of her. When he was onboard you could tell he was home. He gave us a tour top deck and bottom, aft to stern. He pulled out a few snacks and a bottle of champagne to make Mimosa's. He had a brilliant stereo system on which he played beautiful tunes from Reggae to jazz as a background to our splendid visit.
After a couple Mimosas and a light bite, I grew sleepy. Dennis and Dani went below deck and I fell asleep top deck in the warm California sun. I must've slept at least a couple hours. I was beat. As I started to stir, I opened my eyes and Dennis's face was literally six inches above mine! He was trying to wake me up. That gave me quite a start. I jerked up and he started laughing saying, "Hey mama, are you gonna sleep all day?" Of course I laughed, giving him a light punch in the arm. We jumped in the water for a quick swim then continued to party for a couple more hours.
Dennis opened up to us that afternoon. He talked about his brothers, Brian and Carl, Brother Records, his kids, Carl B., Jennifer, Scott, Michael and Gage.
As I mentioned, he was a truly sweet man with a troubled soul. His troubles started when he was young. He was emotionally and physically abused by his father Murray who was often a tyrant.
Dennis drowned on Dec 28, 1983 after diving off a friend's boat in Marina del Rey. This was only a little more than a year after I had spent that wonderful afternoon visiting him on his boat. It was just a mile away from where I was living. He was only 39.
His family held a private funeral for him. Years later, I was invited to a memorial and celebration of life that was held at Chez Jay's, a restaurant that Dennis frequented. It was beautifully attended by friends and family who knew Dennis's heart and soul, his joys and sorrows.
It's hard to believe that Dennis has been gone 37 years, nearly as long as he lived.
I will miss him always.