A Bear passes

Another of the great, colorful, iconic characters of the ’60s has died. This one may have been the most important of all, because without his expertise and dedication to his craft, the great catalyst that powered that most swinging decade might never have existed.

His name was Augustus Owsley Stanley the Third, aka Bear. I mean, jeez, dig that handle. What a name! The scion of a powerful family in Kentucky (AOS1 was governor and senator, AOS2 was a fat cat as well), Owsley gravitated to the Bay Area in the early ’60s, enrolling in UC Berkeley in ’63. He lasted one semester, dropping out after discovering, one fateful afternoon in the school library, the recipe for making an extremely interesting new drug.

Back then, LSD wasn’t illegal, and it was relatively easy for Owsley to procure all the ingredients necessary to brew up huge batches of the stuff. It’s estimated that between ’64 and ’67, Owsley and his partner Tim Scully manufactured at least 1.25 million doses of LSD, doses of life-changing purity and power. When I say life-changing, I mean the kind of LSD that could be consumed by a kid named, say, Joel at 7 o’clock on a Friday night. By the time Joel came down sometime Saturday morning, he’d decided, irreversibly and with total commitment, that he was gonna split college, move to San Francisco, and make candles. And change his name to Moonman. That kind of life-changing.

Our parents weren’t particularly fond of these developments. Nor were the authorities. One hit of this stuff and all kinds of things happened, usually in direct conflict with the way life was “supposed to be.” One hit of this stuff and everything was suddenly back on the table for reexamination. One hit of this stuff and you were “on the bus.” And there was only one way to hop onto that mind-boggling bus. You had to “hippie up,” gulp down a tab of Owsley, and take the ride. For those who dared, life would never be the same.

So without Owsley and his magic lab, do the ’60s even happen? Kesey and Leary and Hoffman and Lennon and Ram Dass and all the gurus could loon about all they wanted; but if there was no one to hand you the actual ticket, if there was no one to MAKE YOU SEE, who would listen? Who would follow? All the movers and shakers couldn’t really move and shake without Owsley. They were all dependent on his cosmic brain-quaking alchemy.

The cultural axis of Western civilization itself tilted a bit because of Bear. How many folks can look back on their lives and say that?

He had lived in Australia since the late ’80s, convinced that it was safer there. He died on March 13th when his car wrecked during a storm near his home in Cairns. He was 76.