LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Owsley “Bear” Stanley, a 1960s counterculture figure who flooded the flower power scene with LSD and was an early benefactor of the Grateful Dead, died in a car crash in his adopted home country of Australia on Sunday, his family said. He was 76.
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 honour,” 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 psychedelic-blues 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, providing him with a healthy income in later life.
“When it came to technology, the Bear was one of the most far-out and interesting guys on the planet,” Cutler wrote. “The first FM live simulcast could be, in part, attributed to his vision, as could the first quadraphonic simulcast on radio.”
The Dead, a fabled rock band formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1965 known for its improvisational live concerts, 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 producing and advocating LSD, he adhered to an all-meat diet.
Cutler, speaking on behalf of the family, said in an interview 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. He died instantly; his wife broke her collar bone.
Stanley is also survived by four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Reporting by Dean Goodman, editing by Peter Bohan and Todd Eastham