Unrepentant chemist of the 60s acid culture
theaustralian.com.au | Mar 18th 2011
OBITUARY: Owsley Stanley. Counterculture chemist. Born Kentucky, US, January 19, 1935. Died Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, March 13, aged 76.
OWSLEY Stanley - popularly known as Bear, the Acid King or sometimes the White Rabbit - helped to shape the psychedelic era by manufacturing and supplying the US west coast hippie scene of the 1960s with high-grade LSD.
The first and foremost underground chemist of his day, he dealt in quality as well as quantity, manufacturing an estimated two million to five million doses of the hallucinogenic drug, which he often distributed free.
He supplied the drugs for Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, whose exploits were chronicled in Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. He also supplied the Beatles and became the Grateful Dead's in-house chemist.
Driven by a missionary zeal and a belief in the mind-expanding powers of psychedelic drugs, he described LSD as a sacrament and claimed its use was akin to a religious experience. One of his most famous batches of the drug bore the name White Lightning. Others brands had names such as Orange Sunshine, Purple Haze and Blue Cheer.
Generically it was all referred to by the manufacturer's name, and in time the term Owsley even made its way into dictionaries as a slang for "good acid".
When Stanley started production, the drug was still legal in California; but after the manufacture and possession of LSD was proscribed in late 1966, he became a wanted man, dubbed an "LSD millionaire" by the Los Angeles Times. It was a considerable exaggeration, for he was a hopeless businessman. Stanley preferred Timothy Leary's description of him as a "test-tube Pancho Villa".
His clandestine laboratory in Orinda, near San Francisco, was raided in 1967 and he went to prison. After his release he resumed his relationship with the Grateful Dead as the band's sound engineer. He designed the group's "wall of sound" amplification system and made concert tapes, many of which were later released in the Dick's Picks series of live CDs.
He also helped to design the band's famous red and blue logo of a skull with a lightning bolt running through it.
A famously reclusive figure, for many years Stanley refused to be photographed or to give interviews; this created an elusive aura and enhanced his status as an underground hero.
He was celebrated by those to whom he supplied drugs in several songs, including the Dead's Alice D. Millionaire and Steely Dan's Kid Charlemagne. Jefferson Airplane's 1967 drug anthem White Rabbit was also a knowing reference to one of his nicknames, and the band's 1970 hit Mexico declared: "You're a legend, Owsley, for your righteous dope".
He spent his final two decades living quietly in Australia, working as a sculptor and making and selling jewellery. After being granted Australian citizenship in 1996, he lent his voice to the republican cause.
He remained unrepentant about his early drug exploits. "I wound up doing time for something I should have been rewarded for," he said in a rare interview on a brief return to San Francisco in 2007.
"What I did was a community service. I was punished for political reasons. Was I a criminal? No. I was a good member of society. Only my society and the one making the laws are different."
Augustus Owsley Stanley III was born in 1935 into a well-to-do Kentucky family. He grew up in Los Angeles and Arlington, Virginia, where he attended a military school. Expelled for drunkenness, he was accepted by the University of Virginia, where he spent a year studying engineering, before joining the US Air Force in 1956 as an electronics and radar specialist. After his discharge in 1958 he drifted, briefly studying ballet in Los Angeles and working in a jet engine laboratory and as a radio and television engineer.
By 1963 he had enrolled at the University of California's Berkeley campus, where he found the recipe for LSD in the Journal of Organic Chemistry in the college library. Soon afterwards he began to cook acid in a small, home-based laboratory.
He became the supplier to Kesey's Merry Pranksters at their Acid Tests, where he met the Grateful Dead, who adopted him as their resident acid king. While LSD was legal, he operated with impunity; police were forced to return his confiscated laboratory equipment, and he promptly set about increasing production.
In A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, the band's official chronicler, Dennis McNally, wrote: "Without him, there simply wouldn't have been enough acid for the psychedelic scene . . . to have ignited."
When LSD became illegal in 1966, the Grateful Dead, wishing to keep Stanley on board, offered him the job of manager. He declined but agreed to become their sound man, but the 1967 raid led to a prison sentence and he eventually served two years.
On his release in 1972, he returned to the Grateful Dead fold and became an integral part of the band's entourage throughout its glory years.
He later worked as a TV engineer before he emigrated to Australia, where he took up residence in the bush in northern Queensland.
He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004 but was treated successfully. He is survived by his wife, Sheila, and by two sons and two daughters by four different women.
Original Page: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/unrepentant-chemist-of-the-60s-acid-culture/story-e6frg8n6-1226023442253
Shared from Read It Later