The Moments Leading up to Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s Tragic Death

Dennis Wilson died from drowning in 1983 after diving for some “treasures” on his friend’s boat. Here’s what we know about this Beach Boy and the hours before his death. 

Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys drowned off the coast of California 

American singer, songwriter and drummer with the Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson (1944 - 1983)American singer, songwriter and drummer with the Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson (1944 - 1983)
American singer, songwriter and drummer with the Beach Boys, Dennis Wilson (1944 – 1983) | Michael Putland/Getty Images

On Tuesday, December 27, Wilson called an old friend, Bill Oster, asking if he and the girl he was with, Colleen “Crystal” McGovern, could visit. After not seeing the Beach Boy for about a year, his colleague obliged, and the crew embarked on a boat ride. 

Wilson said he would detox the next day. As a result, he bought a fifth of vodka and some orange juice for the night. Wilson mentioned that he wouldn’t be allowed back to the Beach Boys unless he stopped his excessive drinking and drug use. 

With Wilson getting inebriated and finally falling asleep, the celebrity later woke up and stayed awake for most of the night with Oster. The next morning, Oster suggested he and Wilson go rowing.

“We set it up, put the oars in it,” Oster said during an interview with Rolling Stone, “and he’s wandering around. ‘I want a drink, I want a drink!’ The girls had hid the stuff. He finally found it and mixed himself another drink.”

Dennis Wilson was diving for ‘his treasures’

At noon, Wilson had turkey sandwiches with his friend and had already consumed three-quarters of the bottle of vodka. He began diving into the slip next to the Emerald and pulled up a piece of rope.

“That was the first thing he brought up,” Oster noted in the same interview. “He kept diving down, scrounging around, bringing up junk. Why he was doing it, I don’t know.”

He eventually found a silver frame containing his wedding picture with his ex-wife Karen Lamm. The Beach Boy threw it off a boat in 1980 — this was just one of the “treasures” Wilson searched for.

“He was psyching himself up to go back in after his treasures,” said Oster. “I told him there was nothing down there. We tried halfheartedly to talk him out of going back in. There was no I talking him out of it.”

Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys died in 1983

Back on board, Wilson drank from a bottle of wine. That afternoon, the artist set back out on his treasure-hunting diving adventure. After seeing him bob up for air behind his rowboat, Oster called out to the Beach Boy, asking him what he found. There was no response.

“At that point, I saw him go straight down and back out of sight,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘That sucker’s playing a game on me. He’s trying to hide.’ That was my fatal error. Because that was the last time he went down… I didn’t see him, so I stomped on the dock and made a whole bunch of noise and said, ‘Hey, Dennis, where are you? Ha ha. I can’t find you.’ Still no response.” 

The harbor patrol reportedly looked for 30 minutes before finding Wilson’s body. According to Last.FM, Wilson’s song “Farewell My Friend” was played at the funeral.

RELATED: Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s Friend Called Him ‘a Notorious Womanizer’: ‘He Called Himself The Wood’