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Eugene Landy
American psychologist

Eugene Landy

Eugene Landy
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American psychologist
A.K.A. Gene Landy
Was Psychologist
From United States of America
Field Healthcare
Gender male
Birth 26 November 1934, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Death 22 March 2006, Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii, U.S.A. (aged 71 years)
The details (from wikipedia)


Eugene Ellsworth "Gene" Landy (November 26, 1934 – March 22, 2006) was an American psychologist and psychotherapist best known for his unconventional 24-hour therapy, as well as for ethical violations concerning his treatment of the Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson in the 1980s. The latter events were dramatized in the biographical film Love & Mercy (2014), in which Landy is portrayed by Paul Giamatti.

As a teenager, Landy aspired to show business, briefly serving as an early manager for George Benson. During the 1960s, he began studying psychology, earning his doctorate at the University of Oklahoma. After moving to Los Angeles, he treated many celebrity clients, including musician Alice Cooper and actors Richard Harris, Rod Steiger, Maureen McCormick, and Gig Young. He also developed an unorthodox 24-hour therapy intended to stabilize his patients by micromanaging their lives with a team of counselors and doctors.

Brian Wilson initially became a patient under Landy's program in 1975. Landy was soon discharged due to his burdensome fees. In 1983, Landy was re-employed as Wilson's therapist, subsequently becoming his executive producer, business manager, co-songwriter, and business adviser. Landy went on to co-produce Wilson's debut solo album and allegedly ghostwrote portions of Wilson's disowned memoir Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story. In 1989, Landy agreed to let the state of California revoke his professional license amidst accusations of ethical violations and patient misconduct. Wilson continued to see Landy until a 1992 restraining order barred Landy from contacting the musician ever again.

Early life and education

Eugene Ellsworth Landy was born on November 26, 1934, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the only child of Jules C. Landy, a medical doctor and psychology professor, and Frieda Mae Gordon Landy, also a psychology professor. Eugene dropped out of school in the sixth grade, later claiming to be dyslexic. At age 16, he pursued a career in show business, producing a nationally syndicated radio show, and discovering 10-year-old George Benson. Landy briefly served as Benson's manager and worked odd jobs as a radio producer, promoting records and producing a single for Frankie Avalon.

Honoring his parents' wishes, Landy resumed his psychiatric studies at Los Angeles City College, where he earned an AA in chemistry, and entered medical school at the National University of Mexico. After falling ill with dysentery, he switched to psychology. He earned a master's degree in psychology from University of Oklahoma in 1967, completing his training with a PhD in 1968.

Career and development of methods

The success of 24-hour therapy rests on the extent to which the therapeutic team can exert control over every aspect of the patient's life. [The therapy would] totally disrupt the privacy of their patient's lives, gaining complete control over every aspect of their physical, personal, social and sexual environments. [The goal is to] teach them how to develop a strong sense of self-sufficiency and control over their lives.

—Eugene Landy, Handbook of Innovative Psychotherapies, 1981

After completing his studies, Landy worked for the Peace Corps, eventually moving to Los Angeles to work as a drug counselor at Harbor Hospital and as a popular part-time instructor at California State University, Northridge. Landy began developing ideas for his 24-hour treatment program while engaging in postdoctoral work at Rancho Santa Fe. It was there that he practiced "marathon therapy", in which a therapist takes control of a group of people for a day or more. In 1968, he worked briefly as an intern at Gateways Hospital in Echo Park, Los Angeles, where he developed his methods further, experimenting with treatment on teenage drug abusers with varying degrees of success. He attributed his failures to having too little control over their nighttime activities; he tried evening rap groups and made himself available at all hours for talking therapies for their nocturnal anxiety attacks. Landy went on to call his new system milieu therapy.

While serving the hospital, he became cultured in the lingo used by its teenagers. In 1971, Landy authored a book on hippie jargon called The Underground Dictionary, published by Simon & Schuster.

Around 1972, Landy founded a Beverly Hills clinic, the Foundation for the Rechanneling of Emotions and Education (FREE). Interns employed at the clinic used Landy's approach on a partial basis. In the early 1970s, he also started penetrating Hollywood social circles, becoming a consultant on various television shows including The Bob Newhart Show. He soon began treating many celebrity clients, earning $200 an hour.

Some of Landy's patients included Alice Cooper, Richard Harris, Rod Steiger, and Gig Young, who died in an apparent murder-suicide along with his wife in 1978. In a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone, Landy claimed that he had treated others, but that he was in no position to explain his background. He added, "I've treated a tremendous number of people in show business; for some reason I seem to be able to relate to them. I think I have a nice reputation that says I'm unorthodox by orthodox standards but basically unique by unorthodox standards." Unusually, he had his own press kit. Doctor and former colleague Solon D. Samuels described Landy as "a maverick in the field of psychology. He's done things that no other psychologist has done in treating the psychotic and the drug addict. ... What he was doing really was translating the hospital environment to the home environment. I think he got some remarkable results – with people who can afford it."

Relationship with Brian Wilson

First treatment

Brian Wilson producing the Beach Boys' album 15 Big Ones in 1976

Landy was initially hired to treat Brian Wilson by Wilson's wife Marilyn in 1975. Wilson publicly rebelled against the program, saying that the only reason that he went along with it was so that he would not be committed to a psychiatric facility. Beach Boys road manager Rick Nelson later claimed that Landy had attempted to exert unwelcome artistic control over the group. During the recording of 15 Big Ones (1976), group meetings were supervised by Landy, and discussions over each song for the record were reported to last for up to eight hours. Another report suggested that Landy had asked for a percentage of the band's income. At the command of Landy, Wilson appeared on Saturday Night Live, choosing to perform a solo piano rendition of "Good Vibrations" which received mixed feedback. Landy stood off-camera holding signs for Wilson that read "smile". He said that critics misapprehended his motives, elaborating that Wilson's performance "was a terrible thing" as a one-shot, but if he continued making appearances, then he would have gradually overcome his stage fright.

Stan Love, Wilson's cousin and band manager, fired Landy in December 1976 when Landy doubled his fee. In 1977, Wilson was asked if Landy had too much control; he said, "I thought so, but there was nothing I could do about it and I eventually gave in to it. ... [He had] control of my life legally through the commitment of my wife. ... He definitely helped me. It cost over a hundred thousand dollars – he charged a hell of a lot per month." Wilson then reported that Landy was replaced with a new doctor, Steve Schwartz. After several sessions with Wilson, Schwartz died in a camping accident, falling off a mountain to his death.

Second treatment

During the course of eight days spent with Landy and Wilson, it became clear just how much control Landy exerts over Brian's life. With the exception of taking a brief drive by himself to the market to pick up groceries, Brian appeared to be incapable of making a move without Landy's okay. During one interview session, the Landy line seemed to ring every thirty minutes. Yet Brian appears to be a willing participant in the program.

—Michael Goldberg in Rolling Stone, August 11, 1988

Five years later in 1982, Wilson was brought back to Landy's care after overdosing on a combination of alcohol, cocaine, and other psychoactive drugs. Landy monitored Brian's drug intake and used Sol Samuels to prescribe him medication. His assistant Kevin Leslie stood with Brian at every moment, earning Leslie the nickname "Surf Nazi". Leslie also gave Brian medication at Landy's direction. Initially, Leslie was paid salary by Landy, but was eventually paid directly by Brian. In the mid 1980s, Landy stated, "I influence all of [Brian]'s thinking. I'm practically a member of the band ... [We're] partners in life." Brian later responded to allegations with, "People say that Dr. Landy runs my life, but the truth is, I'm in charge."

Between 1983 and 1986, Landy charged about $430,000 annually, forcing Wilson's family members to devote some publishing rights to his fee. Landy received 25% of the copyright to all of Wilson's songs, regardless of whether he contributed to them or not, which band manager Tom Hulett explained was an incentive for Landy to reignite Wilson's drive. "It was sort of like, 'Gee, there's nothing coming in now, if you can go make this person well to go create some income ...'" Landy expressed similar views. "Saying that [I would share in future songwriting royalties] in '84 was like me telling you, 'I'll pay you a million dollars if you can get up and fly around the room.'" This arrangement was revoked in 1985, with Landy only receiving rights with a percentage equal to his writing contributions. Landy reported that he never received any money, since Wilson had not published any material before the pact was voided.

In late 1987, Landy and Wilson became creative partners in a company called "Brains and Genius", a business venture where each member would contribute equally and share any profits from recordings, films, soundtracks, or books. Landy was then credited as co-writer and executive producer for Wilson's eponymous solo album released in 1988. Co-producer Russ Titelman disparaged his role in the album's creation, calling him disruptive and "anti-creative". Brian's cousin and bandmate Mike Love denied Landy's claims that the Beach Boys were preventing Brian from participating on their recordings, commenting: "Why would anyone bother with us, his thinking apparently went, when the only Beach Boy who mattered was recording and performing on his own? I finally saw Landy for what he was. His goal was not to drive a wedge between Brian and us. It was to destroy us. Then he would be the sole custodian of Brian's career and legacy."

Landy maintained that his songwriting collaborations on Brian Wilson earned him less than $50,000. For the publishing of Wilson's autobiographic memoir Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story, Landy stood to earn 30% of its proceeds. The book glorifies Landy and was later disowned by Wilson, and its contents have raised questions of plagiarism. Landy denied accusations that he was involved as a ghostwriter. Wilson continued to pay Landy a salary of about $300,000 a year for advice on creative decisions.

State intervention

Action was taken against Landy's professional practice as a result of the Beach Boys' and Wilson family's struggles for control. A former nurse and girlfriend of Wilson's brought Landy to the state's attention in 1984, and they were then aided by journals written by songwriter Gary Usher during a ten-month collaboration with Wilson. These journals depicted Wilson as a virtual captive dominated by Landy, who was determined to fulfill his show business ambitions through Wilson. By this time, Wilson had become Landy's only patient.

Wilson met his future wife and manager Melinda Ledbetter, a Cadillac saleswoman and former model, while browsing through a car dealership in 1986. Six months after meeting Wilson, she had reported Landy to the state's attorney general, who informed her that nothing could be done without the cooperation of Wilson's family. Ledbetter felt that the family had been at their "rope's end" with Wilson, and that they did not know what to do to help him. Three years into their relationship, Landy ordered Wilson to sever ties with Ledbetter.

In February 1988, the State of California Board of Medical Quality charged Landy with ethical and license code violations stemming from the improper prescription of drugs and various unethical personal and professional relationships with patients, citing one case of sexual misconduct with a female patient, along with Wilson's psychological dependency on Landy. Landy denied the allegations, but later admitted to one of the seven charges which accused him of wrongfully prescribing drugs to Wilson. Landy surrendered his psychological license, complying with an agreement made with the state of California, and was not allowed applications for reinstatement for the next two years. An August 1988 board meeting with the Beach Boys had Landy promising that Brian would reconnect with the group, which Love says: "was a ruse to get us to write a letter in his defense against the California authorities. We never wrote the letter, and Brian's public behavior continued to unsettle." Landy and his colleagues claimed that his treatment of Wilson ended in February 1988 at the request of the state attorney general's office, but the deputy attorney who drafted the complaint reported that he was not aware of any such request, nor was the office advised that they sever Landy's relationship with Wilson. Others witnessed no changes, and Landy's assistants remained with Wilson. Samuels believed, "[Brian] still has an oral drive. He would still overeat and overdose if you let him. He has total freedom in every other way."

According to songwriter P. F. Sloan, Landy took advantage of Sloan's disappearance and claimed at one point to be the real P. F. Sloan. He explains that it was an attempt by Landy to gain credibility and appease members of the medical community who were questioning why Landy felt that he was an appropriate songwriting collaborator for Wilson.

Conservatorship hearings

Peter Reum, a therapist who met Wilson while attending a Beach Boys fan convention in 1990, was alarmed by Wilson's demeanor, speculating that he may be suffering from tardive dyskinesia, a neurological condition brought on by prolonged usage of antipsychotic medication. Reum phoned biographer David Leaf, who then reported Reum's observations to Brian's brother Carl Wilson. It was then discovered that Landy had been named as a chief beneficiary in a 1989 revision of Brian's will, collecting 70%, with the remainder split between his girlfriend and Brian's two daughters. This discovery was made by Kay Gilmer, a publicist employed by Landy in March 1990. She phoned Gary Usher to explain why his messages weren't being returned, to which Usher warned: "If Landy knows that you're calling me, he'd kill you. He'd literally kill you." Gilmer left her job two weeks later, taking expired drug bottles as well as names, phone numbers, and bank account information that she later turned over to the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance.

Aided by Gilmer's findings, Stan Love filed unsuccessfully for conservatorship on May 17, 1990. A press conference with Stan at the lectern featured an unexpected appearance from Brian. While reading from a piece of paper, Brian was given a microphone and said: "I have heard of the charges made by Stan Love, and I think they are outrageous, which means they are out of the ballpark ... I feel great." Audree, Carl, Carnie, and Wendy Wilson then contested Landy's control of Brian, pursuing legal action on May 7, 1991. The ruling was finalized on February 3, 1992 when Landy was barred by court order from contacting Brian, leaving his affairs to the hands of conservator Jerome S. Billet. In December 1992, Landy was fined $1,000 for violating the court order when he visited Brian in June for his birthday.

Personal life and death

Landy had one son in the early 1960s, Evan Landy.

After the 1990s, Landy continued a psychotherapeutic practice with licensure in New Mexico and Hawaii up until his death. He died, aged 71, on March 22, 2006 in Honolulu, Hawaii, of pneumonia while suffering from lung cancer. When asked what his reaction to Landy's death had been, Wilson responded: "I was devastated." In 2015, Wilson reflected, "I thought he was my friend, but he was a very fucked-up man," and also, "I still feel that there was benefit. I try to overlook the bad stuff, and be thankful for what he taught me."

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