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Why Brian Wilson Retired From the Road

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Brian Wilson‘s apparent nervous breakdown on a flight to a Houston concert by the Beach Boys in December 1964 ended his onstage appearances for more than a decade … and opened the door for some of the most important music of the ’60s.

Five minutes into the flight, according to the Houston Press, Wilson “started crying and making shrieking noises. He screamed into a pillow, spun out of his seat and sobbed on the cabin floor.” Childhood friend and longtime bandmate Al Jardine clarified: “We were really scared for him. He obviously had a breakdown. None of us had ever witnessed something like that.”

Once the Beach Boys landed, Wilson reportedly insisted on immediate passage back to Los Angeles, but ultimately disembarked and checked into his hotel room. What happened next is still not totally clear, according to the Houston Press. Ron Foster — a member of the Houston-based Detours back then and now an ABC Radio Network oldies DJ — said he visited the dressing room before the Beach Boys’ show, and recalled an almost-catatonic Brian Wilson.

“He was just kind of staring off into space,” Foster said. “He wasn’t rude. He didn’t tell us to get out or anything like that. He was just kind of like staring off into the corner like he wasn’t there.” The concert went on as planned, but, Jardine said, Wilson “stayed in his room and went home.”

Wilson wouldn’t appear onstage with the Beach Boys again for another 12 years. He returned to L.A. the next day, and the group continued its tour of the southwest without him. Future superstar Glen Campbell replaced him briefly, before Bruce Johnston joined the band. Meanwhile, finally free from the time constraints demanded by near-constant touring, Wilson was able to shepherd the Beach Boys’ upcoming studio projects into a period of dizzying innovation, culminating in 1966’s historic Pet Sounds album and the epic single “Good Vibrations.”

The Houston Press claims that in the year and a half following the Houston flight, Wilson suffered two more breakdowns, reportedly exacerbated by recreational drug use. The Beach Boys ended up scrapping their masterwork Smile project in 1967 as Wilson became ever more reclusive. They spent the majority of the next few decades without him, before they reunited for a triumphant reunion album and tour in 2012.

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