Carl Dean Wilson (December 21, 1946 – February 6, 1998) was an American musician, singer, and songwriter who co-founded the Beach Boys. He is best remembered as their lead guitarist, as the youngest brother of bandmates Brian and Dennis Wilson, and as the group's de facto leader in the early 1970s. He was also the band's musical director on stage from 1965 until his death.
Influenced by the guitar playing of Chuck Berry and the Ventures, Carl's initial role in the group was that of lead guitarist and backing vocals, but he performed lead vocals on several of their later hits, including "God Only Knows" (1966), "Good Vibrations" (1966), and "Kokomo" (1988). Unlike other members of the band, he often played alongside the studio musicians employed during the group's critical and commercial peak in the mid 1960s. After Brian's reduced involvement with the group, Carl produced the bulk of their subsequent albums, where the production was nominally credited to "the Beach Boys".
During the 1980s, he attempted to launch a solo career, releasing the albums Carl Wilson (1981) and Young Blood (1983). In the 1990s, he recorded material with Gerry Beckley and Robert Lamm, later released for the posthumous album Like a Brother (2000). He died, aged 51, of lung cancer in 1998. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Beach Boys in 1988.
He is also known as Carl Dean Wilson.
A cigarette smoker since the age of 13, Carl was diagnosed with lung cancer after becoming ill at his vacation home in Hawaii, in early 1997. Despite his illness, Carl continued to perform while undergoing chemotherapy. He played and sang throughout the Beach Boys' entire summer tour which ended in the fall of 1997. During the performances, he sat on a stool, but he stood while singing "God Only Knows".
Carl died of lung cancer in Los Angeles, surrounded by his family, on February 6, 1998, just two months after the death of his mother, Audree Wilson. He was interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
The Beckley-Lamm-Wilson album, Like a Brother, was finally released in 2000, and Carl's late recordings continue to appear. Brian's album Gettin' in Over My Head (2004) features Carl's vocal from the unreleased Beach Boys song "Soul Searchin'", with new backing vocals recorded by Brian. The original Beach Boys version, sourced from a cancelled attempt at a new Beach Boys album in late 1995, was eventually released in the Made in California (2013) box set, along with another 1995 track titled "You're Still a Mystery", which features Carl in the vocal blend. In 2010, bandmate Al Jardine released his first solo album, A Postcard From California, which includes a similarly reconstructed track, "Don't Fight The Sea", featuring one of the last vocals Carl recorded. Carl can also be heard on the continual stream of Beach Boys archival releases, most notably as a central voice in the November 2011 release of The Smile Sessions.