You might have missed it. If so, you’re forgiven. Even if the Japanese earthquake wasn’t the biggest story ever, you might have missed the death of Owsley Stanley in a car crash in Australia.
Oh, just some guy who blew the mind of a generation.
The guy who brewed the purest LSD this side of a Swiss chemist’s lab. The LSD that the Beatles dropped during the making of the Magical Mystery Tour.
The King of LSD produced a half-kilo of pure LSD during his career as the rock ’n’ roll chemist. Doesn’t sound like much, but that’s five million doses. Enough to make “psychedelic” a household word.
Because he was also the sound engineer for the Grateful Dead, he was at Ground Zero of Woodstock Nation, his work immortalized in the lyrics of Jimi Hendrix and Steely Dan, to name just a couple.
Thanks to Owsley Stanley, more than a few sleek, grey stockbrokers, doctors, lawyers and politicians occasionally stop and stare at an interesting carpet pattern for longer than might seem absolutely necessary.
During the period around the Summer of Love — 1967 — Stanley was everywhere.
He designed the dancing bear logo for the Grateful Dead. In fact, he was the dancing bear — his nickname was Bear and he was a dancer. He was also the grandson of the governor of Kentucky.
He supplied the LSD for The Merry Pranksters Acid Test, which Tom Wolfe chronicled in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and journalism, formerly the domain of serious guys in trench coats, was never the same.
Unlike most people who tripped out in the ’60s, then got a real job, Stanley stayed out there. Way out there. He moved to Australia because he thought the Northern Hemisphere was due for another Ice Age. He ate only dairy products and meat, because he believed human beings were natural carnivores and viewed vegetables as toxic.
He died Sunday at 76 after losing control of his car and sliding down a hillside near his home. It’s hard to believe his adventures with LSD and the law once made international headlines, but it’s not hard to believe men don’t let their hair grow long any more. They’re lucky if they still have hair.
Owsley Stanley was the first hippie — and he was the last hippie. Woodstock Nation is now officially a thing of the past. Won’t be long before the next generation thinks we made the whole thing up, like Atlantis.
Meanwhile, the dancing bear is now among the grateful dead forever.