|Photo: San Francisco Chronicle
|Owsley Stanley spent his life avoiding photos. This one was taken at a 1967 arraignment for LSD.
Owsley “Bear” Stanley, a 1960s counterculture figure who became the official acid chemist for the Grateful Dead and who flooded the hippie scene with powerful LSD, died in a car crash in his adopted home country of Australia on Thursday, according to his family. He was 76.
Born Augustus Owsley Stanley III, the eccentric grandson and namesake of a former governor of Kentucky helped create the psychedelic era by producing more than a million doses of LSD at his labs in San Francisco’s Bay Area, reports Reuters
“He made acid so pure and wonderful that people like Jimi Hendrix wrote hit songs about it and others named their band in hits honor, former rock and roll tour manager Sam Cutler wrote in his 2008 memoirs, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.
Hendrix’s hit song “Purple Haze” was reputedly inspired by one batch of Owsley acid, though the guitarist at one point issued an obligatory denial. The early psychedelic heavy metal band Blue Cheer took its name from another batch.
Stanley for a time managed the Grateful Dead, and oversaw their live sound at a time when most live acts gave little thought to amplification in public venues. He was reportedly partly responsible for the Dead’s “Steal Your Face” lightning-bolt-in-a-skull logo.
He used the dead for his audio research, and was responsible for fundamental advances in audio technology, including things as basic now as monitor speakers that allow vocalists and musicians to hear themselves onstage.
His careful tape recordings of Dead concerts were turned into a series of live albums, providing him with a healthy income in his later years.
The Dead wrote about Owsley in their song “Alice D. Millionaire” after a 1967 drug bust prompted a newspaper to describe Stanley as an “LSD millionaire.” The 1976 Steely Dan song “Kid Charlemagne” is loosely based on Owsley’s exploits.
Stanley reportedly started cooking LSD after discovering the recipe in a chemistry journal at the University of California, Berkeley.
In addition to producing, advocating and using LSD, Owsley adhered to an all-meat diet.
The police raided his first acid lab in 1966, but Stanley successfully sued for the return of his equipment. After a marijuana bust in 1970, he served a two-year prison term.
By conservative estimates, Stanley made more than 1.25 million doses of LSD between 1965 and 1967, “essentially seeding the entire modern psychedelic movement,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle
‘s Joel Selvin.
Stanley never joined the ranks of those who apologized for being involved with drugs.
“I wound up doing time for something I should have been rewarded for,” Stanley told Selvin. “What I did was a community service, the way I look at it. I was punished for political reasons. Absolutely meaningless. Was I a criminal? No, I was a good member of society. Only my society and the one making the laws are different.”
“I never set out to change the world,” Stanley said. “I only set out to make sure I was taking something I knew what it was. And it’s hard to make a little. All my friends wanted to know what they were taking, too. Of course, my friends expanded very rapidly.”
“I met Owsley at the age of 18,” Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist/singer Bob Weir wrote on Dead.net
. “I had just left home, having run off with a rock and roll band. Bear, as we knew him, was one of my all-time biggest influences. Always, when I think of him, I think of the endless stuff he taught me or somehow made me realize, all stuff that I’ve been able to use to the benefit of countless people who probably didn’t know much about him or how deeply he influenced me and the rest of the band.”
“Most important was the approach he taught me and us,” Weir wrote. “Always be open and engaging — always critical and questioning, but not negatively so much as playfully. He taught me to take myself and my interests out of the picture and work with the subject under consideration so that the best deductions or conclusions are made. I guess this means working from the point of view of the higher self, though that term never came up; it was always just assumed.”
Stanley emigrated to the Australian state of Queensland in the early 1980s, and sold enamel sculptures on the Internet.
Cutler, speaking on behalf of the family, said that Stanley and his wife, Sheila, were driving to their home near the city of Cairns along a dangerous stretch of highway when he evidently lost control during a storm. Owsley died instantly; his wife broke her collar bone.