Owsley Stanley, icon of 1960s counterculture, dies at 76

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Owsley Stanley, mass-producer of LSD, the drug underlying much of the culture of the 1960s California hippie era, died Sunday in a car accident in Australia at the age of 76, his family announced on Tuesday.

Psychedelically painted school bus of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters

According to The New York Times, "Mr. Stanley lent the ’60s a great deal of its color — like White Lightning, Monterey Purple and Blue Cheer, the varieties of his LSD that were among the most popular."

Stanley, a talented, self-taught chemist who was known for the purity of his LSD, supplied the drug to such music groups as the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix, and provided the acid for Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, whose antics were recorded by Tom Wolfe in the The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The Rolling Stones once called his acid "the best LSD in the world … the genuine Owsley."

He was also an early sound engineer and designed the high-fidelity sound system for the live rock concerts of the Grateful Dead, known as the “wall of sound”. It was essentially a massive public address system made up of 600 speakers that enabled musicians to mix their sound from the stage and reduce distortion. His recordings of Grateful Dead live performances, some having been commercially released, are valued as a documentary of their early music.

Sam Cutler, formerly the tour manager of the Rolling Stones, said of Stanley: "He was a very sophisticated man, an amalgam of scientist and engineer, chemist and artist."

Cquote1.svg I remember the first time I took acid and walked outside, and the cars were kissing the parking meters Cquote2.svg

—Owsley Stanley in Rolling Stone Magazine, 2007

Stanley was born in Kentucky and studied engineering briefly at the University of Virginia before dropping out and joining the Air Force. In 1958, he moved to California and worked at a wide variety of jobs, before enrolling at the UC at Berkeley in 1963, at a time when drug use was pervasive. He got his first taste of LSD in April 1964 which transformed him. "I remember the first time I took acid and walked outside, and the cars were kissing the parking meters," he said in an interview with the Rolling Stone Magazine in 2007.

Deciding to provide his own LSD to ensure its quality, Stanley created his own lab to produce it. According to The Washington Post, "Working at first from a makeshift bathroom laboratory in Berkeley, Mr. Stanley produced at least 1 million doses of LSD between 1965 and 1967." His LSD was widely distributed. The lab was raided and he spent two years in prison.

Stanley moved to Australia in the 1980s when he become convinced the Northern Hemisphere would be destroyed in the coming of a new ice age. He lived in the Australian bush near Cairns, Queensland.

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