Owsley “Bear” Stanley the 1960s counter-culture figure, who “flooded the flower power scene with LSD and was an early benefactor of the Grateful Dead” has died in a car crash in his adopted home country of Australia on Sunday, his family have said. He was 76. The National Post reports that Owsley was:
..the renegade grandson of a former governor of Kentucky, Stanley helped lay the foundation for the psychedelic era by producing more than a million doses of LSD at his labs in San Francisco’s Bay Area.
“He made acid so pure and wonderful that people like Jimi Hendrix wrote hit songs about it and others named their band in its honor,” former rock ‘n’ roll tour manager Sam Cutler wrote in his 2008 memoirs “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
Hendrix’s song “Purple Haze” was reputedly inspired by a batch of Stanley’s product, though the guitarist denied any drug link. The ear-splitting blues-psychedelic combo Blue Cheer took its named from another batch.
Stanley briefly managed the Grateful Dead, and oversaw every aspect of their live sound at a time when little thought was given to amplification in public venues. His tape recordings of Dead concerts were turned into live albums.
The Dead wrote about him in their song “Alice D. Millionaire” after a 1967 arrest prompted a newspaper to describe Stanley as an “LSD millionaire.” Steely Dan’s 1976 single “Kid Charlemagne” was loosely inspired by Stanley’s exploits.
According to a 2007 profile in the San Francisco Chronicle, Stanley started cooking LSD after discovering the recipe in a chemistry journal at the University of California, Berkeley.
The police raided his first lab in 1966, but Stanley successfully sued for the return of his equipment. After a marijuana bust in 1970, he went to prison for two years.
“I wound up doing time for something I should have been rewarded for,” he told the Chronicle’s Joel 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.”
He emigrated to the tropical Australian state of Queensland in the early 1980s, apparently fearful of a new ice age, and sold enamel sculptures on the Internet. He lost one of his vocal cords to cancer.
Stanley was born Augustus Owsley Stanley III in Kentucky, a state governed by his namesake grandfather from 1915 to 1919. He served in the U.S. Air Force for 18 months, studied ballet in Los Angeles, and then enrolled at UC Berkeley. In addition to being an LSD advocate, he adhered to an all-meat diet.
A statement released by Cutler on behalf of Stanley’s family said the car crash occurred near his home in far north Queensland. He is survived by his wife Sheila, four children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Here is a rare interview with Bear Owsley by Bruce Eisner .