Dennis Wilson (1944-1983) is generally conceded to be the “coolest” of the Beach Boys. Mike Love may have been the front man, and for all I know the most popular among the great unwashed, but he’s also a famous jerk – -definitely the guy you’d cast to be the rival of the hero in your beach party movie. And Brian Wilson is of course the genius behind the Beach Boys’ music, at least most of it — but he was always too emotionally damaged to exude anything resembling charisma. And while brother Carl often ranks near the top of critics’ lists of greatest rock and roll guitarists of all time, if you put a gun to my head I couldn’t tell you what he looks like. He looks like the other ones.
While no one would ever put Dennis on a list of rock’s greatest drummers, he was the only Beach Boy who actually surfed, the one who most represented what the band was supposed to be about…drag racing, riding waves, and partying on the beach with girls in bikinis. It was Dennis who had enough star power to be cast in Two Lane Black Top (1971) with Warren Oates and James Taylor. Unfortunately, it was also Dennis who found himself partying for months on end with a charismatic cult leader who turned out to be Charles Manson, and Dennis who drowned while drunk shortly after his 39th birthday.